necklace of large wooden beads, with red accents
News, Reviews, Visual arts

From tiny sculptures to jewelled treasures

Review: ‘Beyond Bling!’ ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

The Art Gallery of Western Australia’s “Beyond Bling!” exhibition is the third iteration of its Culture Juice series, which aims to explore aspects of contemporary culture including sneakers, Heath Ledger; and now, jewellery and body adornment.

I must admit that I am probably not the correct target market for this series, as I am not particularly enthusiastic about jewellery – I don’t even have my ears pierced. However, I am prepared to have my mind changed. After all, an important aspect of contemporary culture is thinking about how a small part of something (such as jewellery) can be used to comment on wider cultural trends, such as how we present ourselves, respond to our environments, source our materials, and remember our loved ones, and “Beyond Bling!” goes some way to exploring these themes throughout the exhibition.

Mari Funaki, ‘Bracelet’, 2008, heat coloured mild steel, 10.7 x 10.5 x 1.5 cm, State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia
Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2014.

The works are sourced from the State Art collections, and most are rarely on display, and never in an exhibition solely concentrated on jewellery as an art form – making these works, as the curators state, “hidden treasures finally getting the attention they deserve”. Thematically organised, the exhibition spans the historical significance of certain pieces of jewellery, such as religion, or mourning, the natural environment, larger trends in art and design, and the particularities of Australian, Western Australian, and European work. The exhibition focuses on the Western history of jewellery and adornment, which is, presumably, due to the Western focus of the collection itself.

The themes help to navigate the exhibition, with specificities of style, form, and function grouped together to create a journey through the ways in which jewellery-making has developed and changed throughout the years. Thinking about the works as tiny, individual sculptures made for an interesting journey through major art and design trends of the 19th and 20th century. The question of wearability also made for some fascinating insights – for example, how the weather has impacted WA jewellery-making trends due to the simple fact that it’s hot, and metal works will burn the skin. More subtle ways that wearability has impacted design include the need for more personal space, with jewellery used as an armour-like object to create a shield between the wearer and the world. Other works are completely unwearable, creating an interesting dynamic between form and function and questioning the nature and purpose of adornment itself.

I must admit I was a little unconvinced by the curators’ emphasis on the universality of jewellery – is it really something that we all wear, love and appreciate? Or is it a mark of status, of wealth, and exclusivity? However, their insights enrich the very beautiful works in the exhibition, allowing for a more expansive definition of jewellery and the art of making wearable design.

‘Beyond Bling!’ is at the Art Gallery of Western Australian until January 14.

Pictured top: Sally Marsland, “Necklace”, 2006, found wooden objects, paint, string, 47.5 x 12 x 6.5 cm, State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Peter Fogarty Design Collection Fund, 2008.

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