SALE PREVIEW: Art as Jewelry as Art
A preview of the ‘Art as Jewelry as Art’ sale, containing works by Alexander Calder, Harry Bertoia and Louise Nevelson.
Sotheby’s New York
4th October, 16.00 EDT
SCARCE PIECES OF jewellery made by prominent twentieth-century painters and sculptors are amongst the lots of Sotheby’s first auction devoted to the genre of artist-made jewellery. Running until October 4th, ‘Art as Jewelry as Art’ offers 139 lots that read like a parallel art history, taking us through surrealism, kinetic art, modernism, abstract expressionism and minimalism – as well as eccentric one-offs and recent works by contemporary artists.
Artists have often turned to jewellery as wearable art or design as gifts for their friends and family, or as a means to earn extra money in challenging times. Early on, they were supported by famous patrons and couturiers including Calouste Gulbenkian, Elsa Schiaparelli, Peggy Guggenheim, Diane Venet and Yves Saint Laurent. Dealers and collectors Didier Ltd, Louisa Guinness and Elisabetta Cipriani have championed the genre. More recently, art fairs focusing on design such as PAD or Salon have added a jewellery section.
Jewellery as art has been widely recognised by the museum world through iconic exhibitions such as the groundbreaking ‘International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890–1961’ held at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London (1961). More recent examples include: ‘Jewellery in America’ at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (2017); ‘Simply Brilliant’ at the Cincinnati Art Museum (2022); and Diane Venet’s (2018) and Elsa Schiaparelli’s collections (2022) at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
Until recently, this enthusiasm for jewellery as art hasn’t been reflected in the auction rooms. In the last few years, for instance, only two major auctions come to mind – ‘Art as Jewellery’ at Christie’s on-line in 2016 and ‘Wearable Art: Jewels from The Crawford Collection’ at Bonhams last year in Los Angeles. All things considered, the field has remained rather limited, possibly because auction houses have tended to divide artists’ jewellery works between the departments where the author’s main body of work was sold (such as design, impressionist and modern, jewellery and collection sales).
These jewellery creations are, after all, a hybridisation, as they don’t fit the criteria of ‘traditional’ collectors. They are often statement pieces that require a certain amount of audacity to wear, and they might appear expensive to the jewellery connoisseur looking for the rarity of gemstones. For an art collector these jewellery piece might seem of lesser importance in the artist’s corpus of work, and for the design lover they can appear nonfunctional.
In recent times, however, collecting habits have shifted and by presenting a new category through this sale, Sotheby’s is testing the waters. Assembled under the direction of Tiffany Dubin, the sale offers a wide array of estimates, precious gemstones (such as the carved Columbian emerald ring by James de Givenchy, Lot 156, estimate $70,000-90,000), ingenious and almost practical jewellery such as the unique modular ring by Giò Pomodoro (Lot 47, estimate $10,000-15,000), as well as work by landmark names such as Alexander Calder (‘Tiara’, Lot 6, estimate $200,000-300,000). The ideal support of jewellery being the human body, the auction house made a conscious effort to present most of the lots being worn by models, mimicking a fashion magazine.
Artist jewellery may not exactly be accessible, but it can be a good entry point of a collection. It requires less space and additional costs, it is unique (or in limited editions) and often has traceable provenance. A Harry Bertoia ‘Sonambient’ may be beyond the reach of some collectors, but they could start with a ‘Kinetic bronze pendant’ (Lot 11, estimate $8,000-12,000), surrealist gloves by Meret Oppenheim – creator of the iconic furry cup – (Lot 75, estimate $3,000-5,000), ‘Shooting star’ brooches by Kiki Smith (Lot 71, estimate $5,000-7,000) or a Georges Braque ‘Zéphyr’ ring (Lot 96, $5,000-7,000).
Alexander Calder, probably the most renowned in the category, is one of the best-represented artists with the highest estimates. One of the most exquisite lots of the sale is undeniably the ‘Man with raised arms’ medallion by Alberto Giacometti, originally intended as a button cast for Elsa Schiaparelli (Lot 99, estimate $18,000-20,000).
If most of the sale covers creations by post-war artists, the auction house has also specially commissioned works by contemporary artists such as the Jean Boggio ‘the magic island Cythera’ ring (Lot 117, estimate $20,000-30,000). Despite the variety and importance of the works, however, most of them lack a direct provenance. In addition, comparing the estimates with other sales, overall, they seem high – but perhaps will be compensated by low reserves.
It remains to be seen if this sale will formalise this particular market and even bring it to the attention of new collectors in a turbulent economic climate.
‘Art as Jewelry as Art’ at Sotheby’s, 4th October 2022.