Suspended from ceiling cables and cleverly slotted into a purpose-built wall that resembles a kind of theatre set, the display cabinet for Custot gallery’s latest exhibition is like a piece of art in itself.
The 12-metre horizontal cabinet was designed by a French architect named Vincent Comte to house the 80 tiny but very precious pieces of art that comprise Art & Jewelry, an exhibition that showcases the work of 20 artists with wearable art as jewellery.
“It is a gallery within a gallery,” says Comte. “The original definition of the word means a long passageway or an outdoor balcony and this display resembles both of those things. The idea was to create something strong visually, which would also complement the artworks specifically.”
Inside each alcove of the designed structure, a small scene is being played out. A coloured background has been selected to bring out the best of each piece of jewellery as well as a custom-made stand.
The show begins with a brooch made in 1940 by the great American sculptor Alexander Calder. It is placed on a small cobalt blue stand with a canary yellow oval placed behind it. This set up succeeds in almost bringing the coiled structure of the brass brooch to life in a similar way to Calder’s famous mobile sculptures.
In the window alongside this hangs a collar-style assemblage necklace made by Niki de Saint Phalle. It is an edition that started in 1974 but was completed in 2015 and is made from 18 karat yellow gold and enamel. It features body parts: two cartoon-like eyes, a pair of lips, a nose, a hand and a heart, all created in her signature whimsical pop-art style and is shown in front of a fuchsia background to bring out the playfulness of her work.
As the viewer follows this glittering procession into the back of the gallery, they will spot a brooch by Pablo Picasso, a golden elephant by Lebanese artist Nadim Karam and more than 10 pieces by Anish Kapoor, the prominent British artist whose mastery of surface and form are just as impressive in the miniature format of jewellery pieces as they are on a large scale.
“There is something magical about seeing these well-known artists dealing with such a restricted formula,” says Stephane Custot, the gallery’s owner and founder. “In no other exhibition would you see a Picasso, a Calder and a Kapoor immediately next to each other but here, because they are all working with jewellery, it works.”
From the region, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian has submitted a silver and gold brooch embedded with semi-precious stones in her geometric and recognisable style and two other Iranians: Pouran Jinchi and Sahand Hesamiyan, were commissioned to create pieces especially for the show.
In the rest of the vast gallery space, artworks by some of the participating artists is on display. An eye-catching painting: Red Arctic Fox by Marc Quinn is a hyper-realistic rendering of flowers, berries and vegetables and on the floor lies an untitled piece by Antony Gormley inspired by the victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which engulfed the city of Pompeii in AD 79. The steel blocks that make up this figure that is supine yet tensed in the final throes of death are repeated in necklace form in the jewellery display. Having the artwork just feet away makes the necklace all the more powerful and is a clever choice of curation.
Herve van der Straeten, a French designer and artist is also included in the gallery. His sculpture made from polished stainless-steel tubes straddles the divide between art and function and therefore provides another transition between the jewellery and the art pieces. However, the entire exhibition offers this kind of dialogue, allowing viewers to appreciate the work of artists they know and love in a different medium.
“For us, we find it exciting,” continues Custot. “Many people in this region in particular love and appreciate jewellery even if they are not familiar with art. This is a great way to offer them easy access to the work of these artists in a medium that they already appreciate. Also, for those who know and love the work of a world-class artist, they can appreciate the challenge of working on this scale. We have set up conversations between these artists from all over the world and we are providing audiences with something new.”
Opens on 19 March, Galleries Night. Part of Art Week at Alserkal Avenue.
Images courtesy of the artists and Custot Gallery Dubai.