It’s Been a Good and Bad Winter for Art Jewellery – MIMA Opening Night and Lesley Craze Closing After 30th Anniversary

As Editor of Findings (the bi-annual magazine from the Association for Contemporary Jewellery) I was lucky enough to be invited up to the opening night of the new contemporary jewellery gallery at The Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA). Contemporary jeweller Frances Julie-Whitelaw got in touch to invite me and see if I wanted a piece written on the opening for Findings. She and MIMA artist in residence Jan Hinchliffe-McCutcheon are both ACJ members and Middlesborough based artists.  It was quite an ACJ gathering as members Muriel Wilson (editor of Jewellery History Today and my predecessor at Findings)  and Norman Cherry (contemporary jeweller, author and educator) were there too.

The contemporary jewellery collection at MIMA is a nationally important one so I jumped at an excuse to visit. MIMA have created a permanent gallery space for the collection and if you want to know more about the collection there is plenty of information on their website about the history of the collection, the building of the gallery and the contents of the collection. 

I arrived at Middlesborough Station (which incidentally has a gorgeous vaulted and wood panelled ticket hall) and met up briefly with Julie before heading off to my hotel in one of the many cabs in town who never charged more than £2.50 for any journey. My impression of Middlesborough itself (in contrast to Sheffield) feels like a town that has not really found itself again after the big steel, coal and shipbuilding industries of the industrial north were taken away in the 1980s. The University dominates the town centre and the MIMA building is a striking contrast to the Victorian Town Hall Building.

The opening evening was a mixture of local government figures, university top brass and jewellery lovers. It was easy to spot the jewellery lovers, they were wearing an interesting piece of jewellery. One chap was wearing a large Adam Paxon brooch, I hazarded a guess that it might be the artist himself and introduced myself. It was him and it was a real pleasure to meet one of my jewellery heroes, we had several chats over the course of what turned out to be a very genial evening.  I love his work it holds a real fascination for me both aesthetically and technically. In a recent interview with jewellery collector Alan Firth he referred to Adam Paxon “Making the material sing…” I could not put it better myself.

There were a few congratulatory speeches and then we were free to roam the gallery and look at the jewellery. It is a stunning collection and one worth a visit. About half the collection is on display including many famous names and pieces which are now historically important from the early days of contemporary jewellery.  The Wendy Ramshaw Rooms of Dreams exhibition was also on and I’ll post the review I did for Findings here once the next issue is out.  The evening was rounded off with an excellent Turkish meal in a nearby restaurant with my fellow ACJ members.

Rather than go on at length describing the jewellery here is a gallery of my favourite pieces from the exhibition:

The second exhibition I went to see was 30 Years In The Making at the Lesley Craze Gallery in Clarkenwell, London.  This was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the gallery and had a broad spread of the artists that have exhibited there over the decades the gallery has been running.   Each artist had a piece from early in their career and one from this year (2014).  Some artists early work is very different from their current work but many you can see the glimmers of the development of their signature style.  Nora Fok for example.  Her early piece was anodised aluminium but there was a tiny thread of the nylon mono-filamnet that came to dominate her work later on.  Several artists were there themselves and it was as always good to appreciate jewellery with other makers  Tanya Clarke- Hall, Ute Decker and Jeremy May were all exhibiting and were a joy to share the exhibition with.  A big surprise was my UCA college classmate Polly Horwich (also exhibiting) who I have not seen in ages, hardly surprising as she has just completed her MA at the Royal College of Art.  I got the distinct impression that this had been an amazing but exhausting experience!  The highlight of the exhibition for me was the fascinating and layered work of Jeremy May. He reads a book then painstakingly cuts a shape that has come to him during the reading from the pages of the book and builds a ring interleaved with coloured paper.  The result is a fluid, polished and enigmatic object.  The first one he made was a gift for his wife.

It was with a real sense of sadness that I discovered by a recent Facebook post that The Lesley Craze Gallery will be closing as of 31st January 2015. After a huge contribution to the world of Contemporary Jewellery Lesley Craze decided to retire from the gallery and with such a personal drive behind it leaving the gallery had to shut.  The Lesley Craze Gallery Facebook page said the following ”

Lesley is soon to celebrate her 80th birthday and now seemed the right time to close the gallery. She will continue to support contemporary jewellery by giving lectures to students, judging, visiting exhibitions and wearing as much as she can! Though, this certainly does leave a big gallery shaped gap in London. We look forward to seeing how the industry evolves in the coming years.”

A loss indeed but it may leave space for something even more amazing in London in the future.

Here is a gallery of a few of my favourites from the Lesley Craze 30th Anniversary exhibition (all images courtesy of Lesley Craze Gallery):  Merry Christmas 2014 and looking forward to a sparkling jewellery filled 2015!

Unexpected Pleasures – The Design Museum 05 December 2012– 03 March 2013

Is this the right room? Oh yes, I think so – a bit hard to tell.  On entering Unexpected Pleasures the visitor is confronted with an array of beautifully designed and clearly very expensive but otherwise blank table cabinets.  They are black and round with three massive domed bolts holding the glass down (they are real I couldn’t resist a tiny unscrew of one!).  Inside sorted into collections of about six pieces per cabinet is the jewellery displayed on black foam.  I found myself peering down these wells trying to decipher what I was looking at and when looking at any piece that was also coloured black (there are several) I was reminded of Douglas Adam’s spaceship with “weird black controls, which are labeled in black on a black background, a small black light lights up in black to let you know you’ve done it…”.  The lighting was not helping matters either.  I felt the display did not show the jewellery off to is best which is a shame. For example Steinhaufen by Karl Fritsch, 2004 so prominently displayed in a glorious colour image on the Design Museum website was tucked away in a cabinet so it was hard to tell what colour it was or even that it was a ring.   I suspect the design of the cabinets was intended to make the visitor feel as if they were discovering those promised “Unexpected Pleasures”.

The exhibition was in four sections, smaller works in table cabinets at the front, a room-like historical section in the middle, behind that large neckpieces, then the “Worn Out” photography section at the back, a slide show of images people wearing jewellery and a video wall which seemed to be people wearing contemporary jewellery at a party (the wine was flowing at least!) which attempted to address the conundrum of displaying jewellery without being worn.

The range of contemporary jewellery was excellent in an important exhibition that is the first of its kind at the Design Museum.  As an introduction to artist made jewellery it really tried hard. The pieces were collected together in loose themes and came from artists all over the world, were there enough from the UK? Does that matter in an international art form?  There was also a section on the earliest emergence of contemporary art jewellery in the 1940s – 1960s.

The lack of human context so apparent in the front of the gallery suddenly changed once you had circumnavigated the “historical room”.  Here at eye level was an array of big necklaces from famous names such as Marjorie Schick, David Watkins, Caroline Broadhead and Lucy Sarneel.  Behind them was a wall of images showing pieces being worn or photography by jewellery artists that were purely two-dimensional works.  Maisie Broadhead’s “Keep Them Sweet” is a gorgeous image but a problematic one in the context of this exhibition, its claim on being jewellery was a sweetie necklace used as a prop.

A personal tradition before leaving an exhibition I like to select the piece I would most like to take home with me.  This time it is Sari Liimatta’s “Phoenix” 2010.  A piece that, for me, embodies what artist made jewellery should; interesting technique, arresting beauty, expressing an intense emotion, with an undeniable ambiguity, exquisite craftsmanship and most importantly wearable.

I bought the exhibition catalogue which you can buy online here it is a little pricey at £35  but is a lovely hardback book with essays and lush images.  As usual I found some other great books in the shop On Jewellery – a compendium of international art jewellery by Liesbth den Besten and Collect Contemporary Jewellery by Joanna Hardy a guide intended for the novice collector but useful for a maker from the other side of the fence too.

“Unexpected Pleasures” was an excellent start if somewhat disappointing in its display, I hope the Design Museum will continue to champion contemporary jewellery and help raise its profile with the general public.

I took a few shots at the exhibition as visual notes for writing this review included below to give a flavour of the display, however, if you want fabulous images of what was at the exhibition I’d get the catalogue if I were you these were just shot on my iPhone!

The full review will appear in ACJ Findings Magazine spring 2013 edition.

 

Camilla Prasch Mega 1/7 2009

Camilla Prasch Mega 1/7 2009

Cabinet at Unexpected Pleasures 2013

Cabinet at Unexpected Pleasures 2013

Peter Chang Bracelet 2007/08

Peter Chang Bracelet 2007/08