NEW YORK, NY.-
What is jewelry? Why do we wear it? What meanings does it convey? On view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
, the exhibition Jewelry: The Body Transformed traverses time and space to explore how jewelry acts upon and activates the body it adorns. This global conversation about one of the most personal and universal of art forms brings together some 230 objects drawn almost exclusively from The Met collection. A dazzling array of headdresses and ear ornaments, brooches and belts, necklaces and rings created between 2600 B.C.E. and the present day are being shown along with sculptures, paintings, prints, and photographs that enrich and amplify the many stories of transformation that jewelry tells.
Jewelry is one of the oldest modes of creative expressionpredating even cave painting by tens of thousands of yearsand the urge to adorn ourselves is now nearly universal, commented Max Hollein, Director of The Met. This exhibition will examine the practice of creating and wearing jewelry through The Mets global collection, revealing the many layers of significance imbued in this deeply meaningful form of art.
If the body is a stage, jewelry is one of its most dazzling performers. Throughout history and across cultures, jewelry has served as an extension and amplification of the body, accentuating it, enhancing it, distorting it, and ultimately transforming it. Jewelry is an essential feature in the acts that make us human, be they rituals of marriage or death, celebrations or battles. At every turn, it expresses some of our highest aspirations.
To fully understand the power of jewelry, it is not enough to look at it as miniature sculpture, stated Melanie Holcomb, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. While jewelry is ubiquitous, the cultures of the world differ widely regarding where on the body it should be worn. By focusing on jewelrys interaction withand agency uponthe human body, this exhibition brings in a key element that has been missing in previous studies of the subject.
The exhibition opens with a dramatic installation that emphasizes the universality of jewelryprecious objects made for the body, a singular and glorious setting for the display of art. Great jewelry from around the world is being presented in a radiant display that groups these ornaments according to the part of the body they adorn: head and hair; nose, lips, and ears; neck and chest; arms and hands; and waist, ankles, and feet.
The remaining galleries have been organized thematically by the kinds of performances jewelry orchestrates. The Divine Body examines one of the earliest conceptions of jewelryits link to immortality. Featured here is a rare head-to-toe ensemble from ancient Egypt that accompanied the elite into the afterlife, as well as items from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, implicated in one of the most mysterious rituals of ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Also highlighted is the regalia of the rulers of Calima (present-day Colombia), who were lavishly covered in sheets of gold.
The Regal Body examines the use of jewelry throughout history to assert rank and status. Among the examples on display are sapphires and pearls from Byzantium, finely wrought gold from the elites of Hellenistic Greece, and ivory and bronze from the Royal Courts of Benin.
The Transcendent Body focuses on how jewelry is used to traverse the temporal and spiritual realms. This section celebrates jewelrys power to conjure spirits, appease gods, and invoke ancestors. Sculpted images and exquisite jewelry from India underscore the active role of gold ornaments in Hindu worship. Adornments from Coastal New Guinea, splendidly fashioned from shell and feathers, speak to jewelrys capacity to channel the spiritual well-being of the wearer.
The Alluring Body explores how jewelry engenders desire. Woodblock prints and period ornaments convey the ways in which hair dressing indicated a courtesans availability in Edo Japan. Photographs and spectacular jewels highlight the eroticism of pearls in the Victorian era and beyond. Jewelry designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, Art Smith, Elsa Peretti, and Shaun Leane document how contemporary artists push the limits of glamour, courting danger and even pain.
The Resplendent Body calls out the marriage of material and technique for the purpose of ostentation. Why wear jewelry, if not to be seen? Examples include the opulent adornment of the Mughals; the aesthetic of accumulation in the gold and silver jewelry of the Akan and Fon peoples of West Africa; and the elegant designs of such legendary jewelry houses as Castellani, Lalique, and Tiffany & Co. Contemporary jewelry makersincluding Peter Chang, Joyce J. Scott, and Daniel Brushwho question and re-imagine notions of luxury and adornment also are being celebrated.
Replete with new acquisitions, acknowledged masterpieces, and recent discoveries from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jewelry: The Body Transformed tests assumptions about what jewelry is and has been. It also confirms that these precious objects are among the most potent vehicles of cultural memory.
The exhibition represents a dynamic, collaborative partnership of six curatorslead curator Melanie Holcomb, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, consulting curator Beth Carver Wees, the Ruth Bigelow Wriston Curator of American Decorative Arts, The American Wing; Kim Benzel, Curator in Charge, Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art; Diana Craig Patch, the Lila Acheson Wallace Curator in Charge, Department of Egyptian Art; Soyoung Lee, the Landon and Lavinia Chief Curator, Harvard Art Museums; and Joanne Pillsbury, the Andrall E. Pearson Curator, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americasassisted by Hannah Korn, Collections Management Coordinator, Medieval Art and The Cloisters, with Moira Gallagher, Research Assistant, The American Wing.