Ideas with Susan Grant Lewin

Don’t think fashion or style when visiting the exhibition ‘Jewelry of Ideas’ at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Think art. This is only one of the lessons we have learnt this week when renowned collector Susan Grant Lewin guided us through the exhibition of her extraordinary collection, celebrating her gift of studio jewelry to the Museum. Another great lesson, that it is the passion of the connoisseur which fills the collection with content, interest, and captivating allure. I walked into this show not understanding art jewelry and being somewhat doubtful, and left it amazed by the richness of this territory to capture the imagination of any design/art lover. The collection of 150 brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and rings, all crafted by artists, represent the radical developments in the movement of art jewelry from the mid-20th century to the present, and the pieces are far from the precious objects we typically associate with jewelry. They rather manifest an artistic expression of groundbreaking and at times radical political and social statements. The wealth of materials and techniques presented in the collection is one of the most stunning aspects of this show. Grant Lewin who has been collecting jewelry for decades is highly conversant in this field, regularly visiting designers in her travels across the globe, while developing the taste for the experimental, the conceptual, the revolutionary. Such intriguing pieces as ‘Intricate’ beading by Joyce Scott, who depicts moments of sexism and racism, calling attention to their engendered violence; ring by Friedrich Becker, designed to axially rotate in response to the gestures of the hand that wears it; and Kiff Slemmons’ ‘Reliquary of My Own Making,’ bracelet, which is constructed of photographs that document her design process; demonstrate the DNA of Studio Jewelry and its capacity to  stand in its own right as an art form.  

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