This is the third of a series on galleries that specialize in jewelry and metalwork. The Quadrum Gallery is owned and operated by Cynthia Kagan. See below for related articles.
Situated among exclusive clothing stores and interior design boutiques and lulled by piped-in music is one of this country’s most comprehensive displays of work by contemporary American jewelers. Set in one of Boston’s affluent suburbs, the Mall at Chestnut Hill seems an unusual spot for a jewelry and fine arts gallery, but Quadrum Gallery’s owner, Cynthia Kagan, has created a successful business out of this unlikely atmosphere.
Without a formal background in jewelry, Kagan has a self-taught appreciation for the art she presents. Her first involvement with selling art jewelry came after seeing Ivy Ross’s titanium and niobium work in New York. She was struck by the bold and colorful designs and decided to incorporate a small body of Ross’s work as an accessory to the paintings with which she had started the gallery. Quadrum Gallery’s collection of art jewelry has grown steadily over the last seven years, from the first exhibition featuring the work Ivy Ross and Bob Ebendorf to the current stable of over 60 jewelers.
Kagan’s interest in and commitment to jewelry stems, in part, from her friendship with Ross and Ebendorf, who gave her a provocative introduction to metal as a wearable art form, showing her work from their collections and spending time discussing current issues and contributions being made in the field. Kagan’s keen sense of business meshed well with her candid delight in the objects and the artists. The enthusiasm she projects is evident throughout the gallery and is shared by the gallery’s director, Liz Rueven, whose discerning eye has done much to refine Quadrum’s collection.
Although Quadrum began as a fine arts gallery, later incorporating small sculpture, some craft objects and jewelry, a growing response to the jewelry enabled Kagan to direct her focus towards wearable art in addition to the paintings. There has never been an attempt to separate the paintings from the jewelry. Instead, display and sales of both occur in the same space and with a similar approach. Together they offer a unique visual mix of color, material and scale, conveying Kagan’s love of beautiful things. By keeping the space integrated and balancing the exhibition schedule between paintings and jewelry, Quadrum attracts and caters to a broad audience. Many customers whose primary interest in the gallery was with the paintings have become enthusiastic collectors of art jewelry as well.
The mall location affords a built-in flow of traffic, attracting both the mall browser and the more serious collector. For the most part it is a curious audience interested in acquiring something distinctive. Exhibition announcements, special events cards and newsletters are sent out regularly to inform the clientele of Quadrum’s active schedule as well as providing a fuller background for the work in the gallery.
Kagan and Rueven are conscious of maintaining a strong body of innovative and appealing jewelry that speaks to a wide range of tastes. Sales are built on the ability to listen to what the public is asking for and offer something unique. The sales staff is very attentive to the needs of the customers, asking questions about what each person wants or feels comfortable with and suggesting interesting alternatives to mainstream jewelry. Active involvement with the clientele accounts for the number of repeat customers who have shown an increased willingness to reach out for more sophisticated work.
In keeping with the pluralism of our culture, Quadrum’s approach is marked by diversity. The collection encompasses a broad spectrum of work, from the bold accessories of Yukihiro Shibata to the sensitive compositions of Pat Flynn or Yoshiko Yamamoto. This eclectic collection pulls together the classical referencs of Claudia Kuehnl, the elegant geometry of Richard Reinhardt, the frantic appeal of Enid Kaplan and the lavish excessiveness of Laurence Seegers. Care is taken to display as much work as possible while maintaining individuality.
To give the jewelry and the art on the walls an uncluttered atmosphere in which to be viewed, the gallery has been designed as a long corridor, free of extraneous detailing. The openness is inviting, allowing for the work of many different artists to be shown without focusing on one particular case. The equal exposure of each jeweler’s work is taken into consideration by rotating the display every two weeks and achieving an overall harmony with the diverse styles and approaches. Rueven feels that a simple presentation is paramount for the jewelry to receive the attention it deserves: so, with the exception of the special exhibitions, names are not placed in the cases. The sales staff is quick to mention each artist by name as work is viewed, using this as an opportunity to introduce the customers to techniques, materials or particular achievements within the field.
An example of Quadrum’s longstanding support of jewelry and metal programs is the annual “Emerging Talents Exhibition.” This year involving only jewelry, it will again highlight work by graduating students from across the country. “Emerging Talents” acts to a degree as a survey of the current trends and concerns occurring in academic metal as well as being a commentary by the gallery on the salability of this work. Several young artists whose initial introduction was through past “Emerging Talents” exhibitions have continued a relationship with the gallery. Besides offering an opportunity for many students to get their feet wet, this show acts as a comparative gauge of the different university metals programs in terms of the retail marketplace. In the past, this exhibition has proven to be an interesting mix of imagination, naiveté and “school style.”
Quadrum’s annual schedule also includes “Worked with Gold,” which is presented during the holiday buying season. As is true of the gallery’s general approach to exhibitions, the theme does not have a fixed concept, instead focusing on the diversity of the invited artists. In this shout, the thread running through a broad selection of artists is the use of gold, leaving possible interpretations open to the individual.
A new series of smaller shows has just been introduced, highlighting the work of one artist each month. Whereas “Emerging Talents” and “Worked with Gold” involve the entire display area, these individual shows will run concurrently with the gallery’s year-round collection, allowing Rueven to be more experimental. Artists are chosen based on distinctive design, innovative approach or a unique spirit. Through these shows, Rueven hopes to broaden the scope of Quadrum’s clientele and to “turn people on to the nontraditional use of materials,” which is evident in the upcoming series featuring the work of Billie Jean Thiede, Leslie Leupp and Alan Burton Thompson. She sees that a significant function of the gallery is the promotion of work valued for its “human creativity” rather than a material assessment.
Although Kagan’s involvement with jewelry began peripherally, the remarkable growth in the last few years is indicative of Quadrum’s firm foundation. What was once an accessory to the paintings is now the primary concern. Kagan’s enthusiasm for the work combined with the staff’s attention to the needs of the customer has created a warm and appealing atmosphere for the gallery’s selection of jewelry. In an interest in staying abreast of the current trends and achievements in the field, both Kagan and Rueven have attended Society of North American Goldsmiths’ (SNAG) conferences and “Conversations,” a gathering of metals graduate students from a variety of programs, held at SUNY, New Paltz. This year, at the SNAG Conference in Flagstaff, Rueven participated in the panel discussion “New Possibilities for the Jewelry Designer.”
As a business, Quadrum seems to hover between being a retail store and an art gallery. Its commercial success is in Kagan’s ability to know when to emphasize one without compromising the other. Marked by their openness and willingness to listen to both artists and customers, she and Rueven have established a solid, successful ground on which to build. In light of their recent growth, it will be exciting to see what the gallery’s future will bring.