In July, my friend and super talented Jeweller Jade Mellor came over from London to visit and, of course, we headed to the MEDUSA Jewellery Exhibition at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The name MEDUSA encaptures the exhibition’s exploration of the idea that jewellery enables the wearer to take on many faces by adopting the personas associated with the makers, style and the context of the act of making and the act of wearing each piece. The exhibition elevates the craft of jewellery making from previous preconceptions of its prominent artificiality to showcase it as a high art form with a rich and important history. It is the first exhibition to explore jewellery in such depth and seriousness, showcasing it as being more than a frivolity.
The exhibition consisted of 400 pieces of jewellery: created by artists (Anni Albers, Man Ray, Meret Oppenheim, Alexander Calder, Salvador Dali, Louise Bourgeois, Lucio Fontana, Niki de Saint Phalle, Fabrice Gygi, Thomas Hirschhorn, Danny McDonald, Sylvie Auvray…), avant-garde jewellery makers and designers (René Lalique, Suzanne Belperron, Line Vautrin, Art Smith, Tony Duquette, Bless, Nervous System…), contemporary jewellery makers (Gijs Bakker, Otto Künzli, Karl Fritsch, Dorothea Prühl, Seulgi Kwon, Sophie Hanagarth…) and also high end jewelers (Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Victoire de Castellane, Buccellati…), as well as anonymous, more ancient or non-Western pieces (including prehistorical and medieval works, punk and rappers’ jewellery as well as costume jewellery etc.).
The exhibition is organized around four themes with a specific display for each: Identity, Value, Body and Instruments. It really made me think more about how we wear and engage with jewellery and its importance throughout history. The exhibition also acknowledges the history of jewellery being associated with the elite and feminisation, but goes on to explore the potential of jewellery as a form of expression – sometimes of dissidence and political resistance – and as armour or a statement. I particularly enjoyed some of the ‘Contemporary’ pieces that were rebellious and humorous.
In 1961 Roland Barthes explained how gemstones became jewellery: “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 infinite 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: jewellery has become democratic.”
There are so many stunning pieces in this exhibition to gaze at and enjoy but what surprised me most is that it is impossible to walk away without wondering about jewellery’s position within society and about the experience of the person wearing it. This exhibition will definitely make you see jewellery in a new light.