Medusa, jewellery and taboos
I eagerly waited to visit the Medusa, jewellery and taboos exhibition in Paris, at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. I had been invited to the opening and regretted not to be able to attend. This impeccably curated exhibition takes a modern look at objects that are a cross between adornment and sculpture and which fascinate artists as much as the public.
Jewellery elicits undeniable reactions of “attraction/repulsion”, depending on who designs it, wears it, or looks at it, much like the terrifying face of the mythical Medusa. Though jewellery is one of the most ancient forms of human expression, it is rarely considered art, often still perceived as too feminine, precious, decorative and of the body, or even primitive. But contemporary artists and creators have taken jewellery far beyond its own traditions, and by reinventing it, have transformed our gaze.
The museum presents almost three hundreds pieces organised thematically: those made by artists such as Meret Oppenheim, Man Ray, Calder, Dali, Picasso, Fabrice Gygi, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Danny McDonald, designers such as René Lalique, Anni Albers, Line Vautrin, Tony Duquette, Bless, contemporary jewellers Gijs Bakker, Karl Fristch, Monika Brugger, Naomi Filmer…, fine jewellers, as well as anonymous or more ancient pieces (antique, Native American, or even punk, rap, bikers, etc.).
The Medusa exhibition brings together pieces that are one of a kind with others that exist in multiple copies, and are made by hand, industrially, or even by computer, thus allowing visitors to compare and contrast refined, artisanal, and futuristic aesthetics.
“There has been a widespread liberation of jewellery: its definition is widening, it is now an object that is free, if one can say this, from prejudice: multiform, multi-substance, to be used in an infinity variety of ways, it is now no longer subservient, to the law of the highest price nor to that of being used in only one way, such as for a party or sacred occasion” Roland Barthes, Des joyaux aux bijoux.
Jewellery has never been exclusively ornamental or aesthetic. Its many social, economic and equally important, magic and ritual functions often co-exists side by side. Rational thought is eager to dismiss these more esoteric, obscure and thus ‘primitive’ uses. To do so, however is to forget that in the West, jewellery continues to be linked with every milestone of our ritualized lives.
Contrasting with such ‘magical aspects’, there is also more obviously ‘functional’ jewellery, anchored in the notion of measurable efficiency. Utilitarian jewellery is by no means incidental: these are the portable versions of a wide range of instruments for domestic and personal care of pleasure.
Yet amidst these very real objects, certain pieces of jewellery remain persistently imaginary: they exist only because we dream them up: they commemorate some ‘once upon a time’ and ‘might have been’ as well as possible fantasies of the future. Today jewellery plays a role in the mutations and constant monitoring of our connected bodies. As a “technological” accessory, jewellery forges a new relationship as an active, almost embedded partner, ‘augmenting’ body and becoming a sign of its programmed obsolescence.
Medusa, Jewellery and taboos, until November 5th 2017, city of Paris’ Museum of Modern Art Curator: Anne Dressen