"Jewelry: The Body Transformed"
“Jewelry: The Body Transformed” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented some 280 objects largely drawn from the Met's own collection. In this survey, the Met explored questions such as what is jewelry and what functions does it perform.
Jewelry is the world's oldest art form. The desire to adorn the body seems to be part of human nature. As the exhibition demonstrates, this desire extends across time and through every culture. While jewelry is often thought of today as a province of women, the exhibition documents that over the centuries, much jewelry has been made for men.
Why do we wear jewelry? The answer that comes immediately to mind is to make us look better. People adorn their bodies with jewelry in order to make themselves look more beautiful or more attractive.
Along the same lines, jewelry can call attention to the wearer. It says this person is important.
The exhibition also showed that jewelry serves other purposes. For example, in many cultures it has a religious or spiritual. It serves to facilitate communication with the deities. Similarly, it can act as an object for channeling devotion.
Another function of jewelry is as a display of power. A king's bejeweled crown is the most obvious example. Its magnificence conveys the message not only that this person is wealthy but that he or she is apart from the rest.
Jewelry continues to perform such functions today. On an everyday basis, jewelry is perhaps more subtle than in some eras in the past. Nonetheless, it is still used to enhance people's appearance. Furthermore, as the works by modern designers displayed in the exhibition attest, it can still be used to display wealth, power and to call attention to oneself.
Thus, jewelry is more than pretty objects made of precious materials. It is an art form with serious purposes.
One difficulty in displaying jewelry as art is that, as a practical matter, a museum cannot display the works in the way they were designed to be seen. As the title of this exhibition illustrates, jewelry is meant to be worn. In theory, a museum could have models standing around wearing the jewelry but the possibility of damage to fragile objects and the need for security for such precious items preclude such an exhibition. At the same time, the traditional display case makes for a dull viewing experience. To solve this problem, the Met presented the jewelry in cases with their own contemporary style, lit dramatically to highlight the beauty of the objects. This made for a very effective presentation.
Above: Jewelry for the feet from ancient Egypt.
Art review - Metropolitan Museum of Art - “Jewelry: The Body Transformed”