As humans, we are often given to hyperbole when describing shiny things, or things that give us pleasure in general. How many times have we seen the "best movie ever" or eaten the "best ice cream in the world" or had People Magazine tell us that someone is the "Sexiest Man Alive" with a definitiveness that is really questionable at best? Well, The Shophound spent quite a bit of time yesterday morning looking over The Metropolitan Museum of Art's newest exhibition, Jewels by JAR, and we are comfortable saying without overstatement that we have never seen jewelry like this before, and we have seen a decent amount of jewelry in our time.
You may wonder if, after seeing this display of artistry and craftsmanship, your own jewelry might start to look a little crappy?
It probably will, at least for a little while. Don't let that keep you away.
On our way home from the Museum, we passed by a jeweler renowned for creativity and finely detailed work, and everything we saw in the window suddenly looked a little bit crude by comparison. We expect to get over this, but it just serves to point out how the jewels on display at the Met are simply on another level from most anything you can buy in even the finest store.
You may also wonder why a jewelry exhibition at the museum is not being staged by the Costume Institute, but due to the Met's particular curatorial guidelines, precious jewels fall under the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. Perhaps this is why exhibition curator Jane Adlin, an Assistant Curator in the department, approached the material as sculpture in the form of jewelry, rather than as a collection of accessories. It works because JAR, also known as Bronx born Joel A. Rosenthal, approaches his work the same way, applying the same kind of detail to a jeweled tulip brooch like the one pictured above that a Dutch master would to a painting of the very same flower. While a world renowned jeweler on the Place Vendôme in Paris might make a perfectly lovely flower brooch out of rubies, diamonds and platinum to justify a stratospheric luxury price. A few doors down, in his own exclusive atelier, Rosenthal might use those same materials, but also add aluminum, lowly zircons or garnets, titanium, enamel or any other seemingly random ingredient that will achieve the kind of visual effect he is after. The value in his work is not only in precious materials, but more so in his artistic rendering. This is why we can look at a case full of his flower brooches and earrings and marvel at how each one is unique as he uses different techniques to create a geranium, a spray of fern leaves, or a camellia, or any number of other flora. There are fauna, too. A wall festooned with glittering butterfly and dragonfly brooches proved a magnet for viewers at the preview. We can't tell you of they were based on actual insects or were fantasy designs, but it hardly mattered. Lightning, mushrooms, owls and even a scoop of melting ice cream are among the many things rendered by Rosenthal in the exhibition. Because of the way the more than 400 objects are presented, you don't have to be a jewelry lover or imagine how one would wear them to appreciate them as art. In fact, they are presented very much apart from the presumed wearers, most of whom maintained their anonymity in lending pieces to the show. There are no photos of people wearing any of the items, and even the displays avoid any illusion to the body. Like any other piece of fine art, the jewels' practical uses are beside the point.
The show is a big deal for the notoriously press-shy Rosenthal. It is the first major exhibition of his work in the U.S., covering the entirety of his career including pieces he hand delivered himself direct from his atelier. It is also the first retrospective at the Met of a living, still working jeweler. Rosenthal works exclusively by appointment. He doesn't sell to other retailers. He doesn't send pieces to magazines or lend them to actresses for red carpet events. In fact, if someone wears one of his pieces, you can bet it is because it has been bought and paid for and probably made exclusively for them. Unless you run in the same circles as JAR clients, this show may be one of the few opportunities you will ever have to see his work in person. In a rare move, he has created a small line of earrings and watches to be sold exclusively at the Museum through the duration of the show. The watches are $600 each, and the earring start at $2000 for styles in resin and go to $7,500 for a pair in gold covered aluminum (pictured in the gallery below). These are truly below-entry level prices for JAR jewels, and are likely to sell quickly to jewelry fans. During a brief Q & A with Adlin during the preview, she was asked about the price range of the pieces in the exhibition. Bristling a bit at the thought, she eventually explained that the museum never comments on the value of anything it displays, which led us to the old adage, "If you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it."
See our gallery below for pictures from the Met's press office, some photos of our own and a few of the JAR pieces available exclusively at the museum store.
Jewels By JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 20, 2013 - March 9 2013