"The Body Transformed" at the Met Fifth Avenue

"The Body Transformed" at the Met Fifth Avenue

 “Oh I am Precious #7” Necklace - Eugene Pijanowski. 1986. Medium: Mizuhiki (rice paper cord), canvas.

“Oh I am Precious #7” Necklace - Eugene Pijanowski. 1986. Medium: Mizuhiki (rice paper cord), canvas.

It took two detailed visits of The Met jewelry exhibit “The Body Transformed” to really appreciate and understand the message and the extend of the work. There is much to see, read, analyse and digest.

Traditional exhibits wow us with the exceptional craftsmanship, luxurious pieces, sparkles and other visual elements that immediately and easily speak to our understanding of jewelry as objets of adornment and beautification - our peacock side if you will.

But the team of curators that put together the exhibit over 5 years under the leadership of Melanie Holcomb, want you to go deeper and thing about how jewelry transforms the body from simple flesh to having extraordinary (sometime godly) powers.

 Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Starting in a dark gallery with lit glass columns showcasing a smorgasbord of pieces, we are invited to think about all the different parts of the body that have been bejewelled over the centuries: from golden toes to hair clips, nose rings to bracelets and belts. All displayed at the right body height - not always easy to view and a bit disorienting but you quickly get drawn in by the sheer beauty of the pieces.

The next five galleries take you from ancient Egypt to tribal Africa, Hellenistic kings, Indian goddesses, Josephine Baker and Alexander McQueen, Mughal resplendence and finally contemporary artists. This dizzying diversity is made possible by the richness of The Met jewelry inventory that has been plucked from various departments and assembled for the exhibit (The Met does not have a dedicated jewelry department).

 Chest ornament giving life and rule for eternity to Pharoah Senworsret II

Chest ornament giving life and rule for eternity to Pharoah Senworsret II

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 Gold ear ornaments - Javanese, Indonesia - 8th - early 10th century

Gold ear ornaments - Javanese, Indonesia - 8th - early 10th century

 Plait ornaments - Turkmen - Central Asia or Iran - early 20th century

Plait ornaments - Turkmen - Central Asia or Iran - early 20th century

Through jewelry, society communicates with the divine, establishes social status, exerts power, entices pleasure, documents cultural exchanges and political conquests, and rebels against the dominant power. The body as its canvas confers to jewelry a force and meaning unequal by other forms of art. It is the true bridge between the flesh and the mind, the connector of our outward appearance and inner emotions.

 Face a Main

Face a Main

 Tiara - part of a parure - Cameos carved by Luigi Saulini (Italian, 1819-1883)

Tiara - part of a parure - Cameos carved by Luigi Saulini (Italian, 1819-1883)

 Headdress with phoenixes and flowers - Chinese, Ming dynasty, 16th - 17th century

Headdress with phoenixes and flowers - Chinese, Ming dynasty, 16th - 17th century

 Pendant, Rene-Jules Lalique (French 1860 - 1945)

Pendant, Rene-Jules Lalique (French 1860 - 1945)

 Pair of Earflare Frontals, 5th-7th century, Shell. Wispering into the ear of the king.

Pair of Earflare Frontals, 5th-7th century, Shell. Wispering into the ear of the king.

 Art Nouveau enamel, opal and amethyst necklace - Rene Lalique circa 1900  Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Art Nouveau enamel, opal and amethyst necklace - Rene Lalique circa 1900

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Exhibits of this magnitude do not happen without the financial support of art lovers and collectors. This is no exception: kazumi Arikawa, jewelry collector from Japan, donated 3 exceptional pieces to the museum and sponsored the exhibit: a dragon fly brooch by Boucheron, a bracelet by Lucien Falize and a parure in Shakudo from Hunt & Roskell. You can read more about him in Sandrine Merle’s article. (photos below courtesy of Sandrine Merle).

“Jewelry: The Body Transformed” is at the Met Fifth Avenue until February 24th, 2019

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