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Elegant Armor: the Art of Jewelry

September 1, 2008 - March 1, 2009

Exhibition of Innovative Modern and Contemporary Jewelry Inaugurates Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery at MAD

Elegant Armor: The Art of Jewelry Opens In September 2008

New York, NY (September 18, 2008)

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) inaugurates the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery in its new Columbus Circle home with Elegant Armor: The Art of Jewelry. On view from September 27, 2008, through May 31, 2009, the exhibition explores the inspirations for contemporary jewelry, including the fine arts, the human form and the natural world. Featuring over 240 works from 1948 to the present, Elegant Armor draws from the Museum’s collection of approximately 450 modern and contemporary works, the entirety of which is housed in the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery in publicly accessible study drawers.


Holly Hotchner, the Nanette L. Laitman Director of the Museum, noted, “We’re very grateful to our partners at the Tiffany & Co. Foundation for their support in establishing this facility as an innovative international resource center dedicated to the presentation and study of contemporary jewelry. The Museum’s commitment to collect and display the finest contemporary work gives artists in the field a presence in the New York art scene. Our new jewelry center is an important destination for New York’s culture and fashion communities.”


“Since its founding in 1956, the Museum has had a distinguished history of interpreting the cultural significance of modern and contemporary jewelry,” said Ursula Ilse-Neuman, Curator of Contemporary Jewelry, who organized Elegant Armor.“Our permanent collection of jewelry and innovative exhibition programming have served to highlight the work of both established and emerging artists from around the world. MAD’s collection explores the range of concepts, materials and techniques that make contemporary jewelry one of today’s most visually exciting art forms.”


“We are pleased to have funded the creation of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery, which embodies the Foundation’s mission to enhance the appreciation of jewelry as an art form,” said Fernanda M. Kellogg, president of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation. “Through an innovative program of exhibitions and by establishing the gallery as a research center, we hope to support the Museum's efforts to educate and inspire both emerging artists and all those who have an interest in jewelry.”


Elegant Armor presents major themes in contemporary jewelry with styles ranging from minimal to theatrical, and materials from the everyday to the opulent. The exhibition is divided into four sections: Sculptural Forms, Narrative Jewelry, Painted and Textured Surfaces, and Radical Edge.




Sculptural Forms

Many artists give primacy to pure form, creating jewelry that functions as small sculpture, on and off the body. These works range from minimalist, biomorphic and organic, to kinetic jewelry and pieces informed by architecture and engineering. Minimalist works include the celebrated 1967 Armband by Gijs Bakker as well as Emmy van Leersum and Linda MacNeil’s 1995 geometric necklace of mirrored glass and gold. The influence of engineering and architecture is seen in Eva Eisler’s 1990 Brooch from her “Tension Series,” which resembles a diminutive modern bridge. Important early examples of sculptural jewelry by pioneers in the studio jewelry movement included Art Smith’s 1948 brass neckpiece, and Margaret de Patta’s surprising kinetic brooch from 1947.


Narrative Jewelry

American jewelry artists are renowned for incorporating narrative content into wearable pieces. In addition to using signs and symbols, stories and legends, and sociopolitical messages, narrative jewelry can also include images inspired by nature or the human body. Pioneering American studio jewelry artist Sam Kramer’s surrealist-inspired 1958 Roc Pendant draws on elements from the subconscious. African-American artist Joyce J. Scott’s Voices neckpiece of 1993 comments on social injustice; its beaded faces have closed silenced mouths.


Verena Sieber-Fuchs from Germany made her 1988 Apartheid collar of tissue paper used for wrapping oranges from South Africa as a commentary on apartheid. The human hand is depicted figuratively in the 1992 Metamorfosi bracelet by Italian sculptor-jeweler Bruno Martinazzi. The hand also appears in German artist Gerd Rothman’s Palm Print bracelet of 1997, this time a cast silver imprint of the artist’s own palm.


Painted and Textured Surfaces

Some artists move beyond classic silver and gold to achieve brilliant color in their pieces by inlaying metals, enameling, or using stones or beads. Earl Pardon’s 1979 Necklace and Jamie Bennett’s 1988 Aiuola Brooch reflect a painterly approach to the use of enamel. Colored stones also add chromatic interest. Native American contemporary jewelry pioneer Charles Loloma uses brilliant turquoise in his Bracelet from 1968. Bernd Munsteiner of Germany combines gold with deep blue lapis lazuli in his Brooch/Pendant of 2001.


Texture also impacts the viewer and wearer of these works: Italian artist Gio Pomodoro’s 1963 Brooch has a multi-layered surface of white and yellow gold. And for her 2000 Bracelet, Norway’s premiere art jeweler Tone Vigeland joined hundreds of individually hammered steel beads to create an object that moves and changes when worn.


Radical Edge

Many works in the Museum collection are conceptual in nature. Some are created with a theatrical intent to stand alone as sculptures. Germany master jeweler Otto Künzli’s Gold Makes You Blind is a simple black rubber bracelet that covers and entirely hides a nugget of pure gold from the viewer. Mary Ann Scherr, an influential leader in the American studio jewelry movement, investigated the potential relationship between jewelry and medicine in her 1974 Electronic Oxygen Belt, a neck pendant with electronic components and oxygen mask hidden inside. Germany’s Ulrike Bahrs’ Brooch from 2000 combines the fine materials of gold, silver, and garnets with holography to create a mysterious fleeting image. American innovator Stanley Lechtzin used rapid prototyping stereo-lithography to make his 1999 Plus-Minus Brooch, while his partner Daniella Kerner’s 1999 Mag-Brooch was made with selective laser sintering in DuraForm polyamide joined by rare earth magnets.



In conjunction with Elegant Armor, the Museum will present a colloquium on contemporary jewelryon November 22. The event will bring together experts from Rhode Island School of Design, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and SUNY New Paltz to discuss new directions in the field, with design presentations from students and young designers.


MAD's public programs connect visitors with working artists, and act as the bridge between exhibitions and their broader historical and social contexts, contemporary issues of sustainability and design, and new developments in technique and materials. Programs include artists’ demonstrations in the Museum’s unique open studios, as well as performances, workshops and lectures in the Museum’s new galleries, education center, and theater. Hands-on opportunities for visitors of all ages are offered each Sunday, as well as daily exhibition tours and open studio demonstrations. Programs delve into aspects of the permanent collection and developments in design and architecture, and studios will feature artists whose work is on exhibition in the galleries.



The exhibition has been curated by Ursula Ilse-Neuman, Curator of Jewelry at the Museum of Arts and Design. The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery and its programming are being supported by the Tiffany & Co. Foundation through a grant of $2 million, the largest gift that the Foundation has made since its inception in 2000. Elegant Armor is the first exhibition in the Gallery.



An unprecedented study center and exhibition gallery, the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery is the first resource of its kind in the country for the study and presentation of contemporary jewelry. Designed by Kiss+Zwigard Architects, the center will house the Museum’s permanent collection and host a robust schedule of public programs and artist residencies, allowing visitors to become actively engaged in jewelry making processes and techniques. The center represents the ongoing commitment embraced by both the Tiffany & Co. Foundation and the Museum to preserve and promote excellence in craftsmanship and design.


Ursula Ilse-Neuman, a curator at MAD since 1992, was appointed Curator of Jewelry in May 2007 and is responsible for developing programming in the center. Ilse-Neuman has been instrumental in expanding the Museum’s focus on contemporary jewelry design and has organized numerous jewelry exhibitions at MAD, including GlassWear (2007); Corporal Identity: Body Language (2004), in collaboration with the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt Germany; Treasures from the Vault (2004); Zero Karat: The Donna Schneier Gift to the Museum of Arts and Design (2002); and Radiant Geometries: Fifteen International Jewelers (2001). She has also organized numerous exhibitions in all the traditional decorative arts media, written extensively for catalogues and magazines, juried many competitions and lectured widely.



The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, which awarded its first set of grants in 2000, provides support to nonprofit organizations dedicated to the education and preservation of the decorative arts and environmental conservation. For more information on the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, please visit



The Museum of Arts and Design explores how craft, art, and design intersect in the visual arts today. The Museum focuses on contemporary creativity and the ways in which artists and designers from around the world transform materials through processes ranging from the handmade to cutting-edge technologies. The exhibition program explores and illuminates issues and ideas, highlights creativity and craftsmanship, and celebrates the limitless potential of materials and techniques when used by creative and innovative artists. MAD’s permanent collection is global in scope and focuses on art, craft, and design from 1945 to the present day.


For more information about the Museum of Arts and Design, visit

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