Why do women wear jewelry? What kind of meaning does it carry? These questions kicked off one of the most fascinating talks I have ever attended. “Women and the Critical Eye: The Art of Jewelry,” a discussion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art led by Melanie Holcomb, curator of the Department of Medieval Art and the Cloisters, involved two unique collectors and a jewelry professional.
Laurie Ann Goldman, board director and former CEO of Spanx, shared the most delightful and insightful stories about her epic collection of around 600 pieces of jewelry. She recounted anecdotes about shopping experiences that extended from the most exclusive destinations to buying big-time pieces on Ebay. Yes, Ebay. Laurie outlined what inspires her to buy a jewel plus her original sources of inspiration to collect. Wonder Woman was namechecked and so was Madeline Albright. “Jewelry is emotional currency with women,” explained Laurie. “Why we own things and how we come to have them are experiences we share when we are together.”
Milly Gilmcher, a cofounder of the Pace Gallery, art historian and self-described “accidental jewelry collector,” talked about the jewelry made by artists that form the foundation of her collection. She revealed the fascinating backstories on what it meant for certain artists to make jewelry. Louise Bourgeois thought it was a “hoot.” Milly charmingly explained how some jewelry by artists was wearable and other pieces, well, not so much since, “artists are not necessarily jewelry makers.” One sensational story involved how her husband, Arne, commissioned the French artist Jean Dubuffet to design a brooch and he had David Webb manufacture the piece.
Lisa Hubbard, a jewelry specialist and consultant to the auction world, rounded out the conversation by sharing anecdotes about some of the most famous jewelry collections of all time. Legendary tales about Elizabeth Taylor, the Duchess of Windsor and Marlene Dietrich were all included. Plus, Lisa went over what it was like to handle certain pieces from the estates of these women when they hit the auction block.
The hour-long conversation that can be seen here was the first program to coincide with the MET’s forthcoming exhibit Jewelry: The Body Transformed which will open on November 12, 2018. The landmark show will include 230 objects drawn almost exclusively from the MET’s collection. It involves a collaborative partnership of six curators from various departments. An array of headdresses, ear ornaments, brooches, necklaces and rings created between 2600 B.C.E. and the present day will be on display alongside sculptures, paintings, prints, and photographs. The blend of art will illuminate the stories jewelry tells over history.
Jewels featured in the photo above from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s forthcoming exhibition Jewelry: The Body Transformed from the Outside to center: Broad Collar of Wah, Egyptian, ca. 1981.1975 B.C. (40.3.2); Bracelet with Crocodile Heads, Edo peoples (Court of Benin, Nigeria), 17th–19th century (1991.17.80); Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria), Earrings,1983–84 (2009.300.2224a, b); Serpent Labret with Articulated Tongue, Aztec (Central Mexico), 1300–1521 (2016.64); René-Jules Lalique (French, 1860–1945), Necklace, ca. 1897–99 (1985.114); Comb with Rooster, Baule peoples (central Côte d’Ivoire), 19th–20th century (1980.430); Necklace with Leaf-Shaped Pendants, Javanese, second half of the 9th–first quarter of the 10th century (1998.544.11a–i); Headdress Ornament, Calima-Yotoco (Colombia), 1st–7th century (66.196.24).