This article showcases various exhibitions in the form of collected exhibition reviews published in the 1989 Winter issue of the Metalsmith Magazine. This features Thomas Mann, Judith Kaufman, Laurie Hall, Enid Kaplan, and more!
The Susan Cummins Gallery
Mill Valley, CA
by Roberta Floden
West Coast craft that blossomed in the 60s is now recognized as one of the significant features of post-war American art. In its unrestrained artistic freedom, experimentation with new materials and innovative synthesis of surface, form and function, the West Coast spirit was felt across the country.
Susan Cummins was drawn to the San Francisco Bay area because of its reputation for being a haven for artists. In the early 70s she moved to Mill Valley, an upscale town in Marin County north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Here, she ran (for 10 years) a small shop called Fireworks, featuring works of utilitarian clay and glass. In her travels around the country, mostly buying trips, she saw the growing importance of presenting crafts in a traditional gallery setting rather than a shop atmosphere. In 1984, Cummins opened her current gallery, and expanded to include jewelry.
- Thomas Mann, House of Work No 2, 1986
Micarta, lucite, silver, brass, aluminum, zinc, glass, main elements are printing plates for Arm & Hammer washing soda boxes from the 50s; contains a removable brooch, 12 x 18 x 4″
Photo: Will Crocker
Now, each month, the gallery features a metalsmith along with a ceramic artist or painter. Although space is at a premium, Cummins has arranged a specific area of freestanding cases to display her stable of jewelers. “Artists I represent must have a body of work to display” says Cummins. “I encourage them to put together a talk and slide show to give clients—really, the community—an opportunity to see how an artist works, what the artist is thinking. I’d like them to understand the complexity and appreciate the difficulty of a piece of jewelry and to note how the current images have grown out of what was done in the past. I want potential clients to understand what they are looking at, or what they are considering to adorn their body or their residence. I look at education as part of the service the gallery provides.”
Cummins is always on the lookout for new jewelers who show the spark of originality. She travels extensively and visits studios, galleries, fairs and seminars, including the important American Crafts Fairs. For the last several years, her gallery has been one of the two or three from the Bay Area invited to participate in the International New Art Forms Exhibition in Chicago. “What’s significant to me about Navy Pier,” she says, “is that in this exhibition galleries show artist’s work rather than artists showing their own work. This difference forces gallery owners to decide who they’re representing, who they’re going to work for. Very clearly, it has made me, even more, commit myself to my artists. Thus, by its very nature, the Navy Pier show has set a standard for quality.”
- Laurie Hall, Wrapped up in the Times pin, sterling silver, aluminum, glass eye
Photo: Roger Schreiber
And how does Cummins choose the jewelers to show? “They must be acknowledged innovators” she says, “l wouldn’t call my taste traditional. What I want is personal expression, images that will last longer than the current fashion trend.” She looks for visual puns (Laurie Hall), witty commentary (Linda Hesh), simple, yet elegant statements (Barbara Heinrich, Pat Flynn), minimalist sculpture (Sandra Enterline, Pavel Opocensky) and complex references to natural forms that are “developed in a personal way” (Margaret Barnaby, Randy Long). She is idiosyncratically drawn to fetish-oriented jewelry like those of Thomas Mann and the sophisticated reference to contemporary art when done by a master like William Harper.
It was no surprise to Cummins that The Eloquent Object, a nationally circulating exhibit that came to the Oakland Museum in the Spring of 1988, included over 35 artists who live and work in California, 18 of whom make their homes in the Bay Area (out of a total of 140) and many more who had studied at one time in the state. She decided to capitalize on what was presented at the museum.
“Here was a major exhibit—there haven’t been that many upon which I could give my clientele a broader and more current picture,” she says. “I wouldn’t have missed the chance for anything.” Thus, during the time the exhibit was across the bay in Oakland, Cummins used her gallery to display the recent work of nine of the show’s jewelers—Stanley Lechtzin, Marjorie Schick, Mary Lee Hu, Robert Ebendorf, Richard Mawdsley, William Harper, Ken Cory, J Fred Woell and Joyce Scott.
Most of Cummins’ steady clients are from the Bay Area, and she maintains a close business relationship with them. However, due to her travels, her growing national reputation and her participation in the Navy Pier exhibition, Cummins is gathering clients from all over the country. For many, she provides a service by mail, sending slides and Photos for consideration.
Thus, over the past five years, Susan Cummins has built her gallery’s reputation by working closely with both her stable of artists and her clientele. The jewelers she represents, the artists she shows, by all estimates are some of the best in the country. The gallery has grown as the crafts movement itself has grown, becoming more sophisticated, more professional.
Society of North American Goldsmiths Earring Competition
Joan Michlin Gallery, New York City
September 15-October 15, 1988
by Antonia H. Schwed
This most successful juried exhibit consisted of about 100 pairs of earrings. Well-lit and tastefully displayed, the work was shown in four wall cases, and there was quite a spectrum of talent, ranging from the classic artistry of Mariette Bevington to the dramatically beautiful Wild Indian II by Judith Kaufman.
Elizabeth Prior’s earrings featuring fluorite crystals were outstanding. They combined a sculptured, almost chunky quality with elegance. Deidre Donchian’s Dream Seeker earrings were delightful compositions of rose quartz with textural pendant sections made of copper, sterling and brass. G. Phil Poirier’s lovely earrings featured pendant fan-shaped, rosy colored lepidolate. A delight to wear, I should think.
Jennifer Swartz’s earrings, Desparation, while far-out in design, somehow worked. Each earring consisted of a Lilliputian sculpted man seated on a bar and reaching up. Hanging below each figure was a tiny photo of a diminishing road. I don’t know how wearable they might be, but they were intriguing as miniature sculptures and I admired them. This is more than I can say about a few of the other outre earrings that I frankly could not see anyone wearing for either personal enhancement or chic. I have strong feelings about jewelry and feel that gimmickry — no matter how clever — is apt to be a poor idea.
Ron Lodes came up with the first titanium work I’ve liked in a long time: large, circular, three-level earrings, done in splendid tones of turquoise, blue and rose.
All in all, this was a varied and interesting exhibit, and there were many fine earrings that I have not mentioned because of space. I would have liked to walk out with a good number of those earrings.
Joyce Clements: Celestial Sphere Series
Susan Cummins Gallery, Mill Valley, CA
by Roberta Floden
Nature has most often been the inspiration for Joyce Clements’s jewelry designs; so, it is not a surprise that her new Celestial Sphere Series of rings and pendants portrays the dynamic skyshow over the Pacific Ocean, as viewed from her studio window.
The rings are made of gold and gemstones selected for their hue and luminescence. Although, at first, the stones seem oversized and even top-heavy, the rings are constructed carefully with solid shanks that make them stable when worn. In fact, proportional emphasis of the stones adds to their symbolism as bright paeans to the sun.
For the group of “Sun Temple” rings, Clements has studied the changing features of the sun as it moves across the sky. Sun Temple IV, a ring with a white Burmese pearl surrounded by an amber and a carnelian disc, and Sun Temple V, with a Mexican fire opal and six citrines, offer the round, shimmering wonder of the sun in full splendor. Sunsets and the atmospheric mysteries of dusk are suggested by Sun Temple II and Sun Temple III, asymmetrical, abstract pieces featuring such diverse stones as black pearls, amethysts and turquoise.
- Elizabeth Prior, Earrings
Fluorite octahedrons, sterling silver, 18k gold, amethyst, chrysoprase cabochons, ½” w.
Sun Dome is massive, masculine and almost traditional in design when compared to the others. Featuring a large, dome-shaped smoky quartz set in a bezel, what makes this ring unusual is that inside the quartz is a faceted citrine that attracts the eye with its light-catching qualities and changing hues.
The most dazzling of Clements’s rings is Sun Spots Ring, a faceted peach-colored citrine. Playing with the idea of sun-spots cycles, Clements constructed the ring to rotate in two ways: the stone itself rotates within the gold orb and the gold orb rotates itself, making the ring act like a tiny observatory. Four diamonds, denoting the cardinal compass points, surround the stone.
Clements has four pendants on exhibit as well. Also inspired by celestial events with titles like Twilight and Lightning Storm, these are not as esthetically successful as her rings. The images aren’t as abstract or as allusional, but more conventional. In addition, the pendants are supported by glass beads and a fiber wrap. Although they fall nicely when worn, I find beads an uninteresting way to handle this particular king of design problem. Often, as in the case here, beads are too ostentatiously colorful and tend to pull your eye away from the pendant.
Yet Clements has created a jewelry that is both highly sophisticated and innovative. She has portrayed the natural environment, especially the wonder of the sun—that powerful, life-giving symbol—in a variety of interpretations that give her jewelry a significance beyond superficial appearance.
Jung-Hoo Kim, Alan Burton Thompson
Pacchetto Gallery, Boston, MA
June 20-July 15, 1988
by Claire Sanford
Both Jung-Hoo Kim and Alan Burton Thompson choose to work in a narrative style and, with few exceptions, use the brooch as format to speak of memory, home and a personal past. Like many contemporary jewelers, Kim and Thompson employ the intimate scale of the jewelry object to create a private space. For both artists, this space is meant for contemplation offering recognizable objects as tiny icons that the viewer (or wearer) can color with his own associations.
Kim’s jewelry is cool and reserved, relying on minimal forms and a limited palette of color to reinforce the stark simplicity of her compositions. The use of house, window and furniture imagery is repeated throughout her work, a metaphor for self or shelter. Often, a vessel or bird form is set into graceful still life scenes, as concise and reduced as Haiku. The relative absence of color and surface embellishment gives Kim’s work a sense of muted isolation.
- Joyce Clements, Sun Temple II Ring
14k yellow gold, sterling silver, Burmese pearl garnet, sapphire cabochons, 40mm
In Living Now, a lone cattail stalk bends in tandem with a tall house. An oval frame floats above the open doorway containing a fragment of a stamp, the thread of communication between a displaced person and home. House on the Mountain shows a tiny house set precariously on the edge of a slate hill, stairs leading towards, but not up to, the windowless building. Kim combines materials in several pieces, contrasting wood, rice paper, slate, Colorcore and gold-leafed rubber with cool white silver. Of these, the wood offers a particular warmth and weathered softness in the neckpiece Out of the Window II. Rich brown copper and faded grey wood frame a tiny closed window, in front of which sits a lone silver pitcher. The use of Colorcore, on the other hand, adds little contrast with its predictable pastel colors and inert surface.
Thompson’s work is marked, as it has been in the past, by eclecticism. He throws together bits and pieces in a spirited celebration of obsessive collecting. Like Kim, he invokes memory to preserve distant places and lost people, often presenting these impressions behind plastic in framed regalia. Materials range from opals and pearls to cheap plastics and mylar. Felt, velvet, tiny glass beads, bits of coral, paint, glitter, toys—all the stuff we found seductive and fascinating as children—have never been abandoned by Thompson. In several pieces, tiny glass beads move and mylar winks as the brooch plays a visual slight-of-hand. While the ideas of illusion, magic and mystery are theme, the work remains surface oriented, relying on the unexpected coupling of formal materials to spark the curiosity of the viewer.
- Sun Spots Ring, 1988
14k yellow and white gold, 24k gold, diamond, citrine, 42.5mm
Photos: Mel Schockner
A few images emerge as central motifs in Thompson’s work. The traditional cameo is the gentle presence of a woman as well as a reference to jewelry’s history. The application of gold leaf, although sometimes heavy-handed, separates the objects from their intended function. so that a toy boat converts into a spirit vessel as in Canoe and Dugout. These pieces are part of a personal mythology, made to reveal experiences of significant change. However, given the scale and restrictions imposed by wearability, some of the power and poignancy is lost to conventional beauty.
Thompson is most successful when his assemblages step to one side of logic or convention: an opal “set” by trapping it between black felt and plexi as if it were levitating on a darkened stage, or gold-leafing a small bone as the central element in a strange, modern reliquary. By removing the frames from his jewelry and letting the objects become vehicles instead of images, as he has done in Canoe and Dugout, Thompson makes a stronger argument for the content of his ideas.
Enid Kaplan: Resonant Aliens
Sculpture to Wear Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
March 19-April 9, 1988
by Carolyn Novin
Daring vulnerability animates Enid Kaplan’s figurative jewelry and sculpture. Jagged projections of wild gestural bodies, outreaching hands, electrified hair and bold combinations of silver, brass, gold, anodized niobium, sparkling plastic and stones, join in dramatic juxtaposition of the familiar and the unexpected. Brilliant and bizarre greens, purples and pinks splash across exotic faces; even small brooches glow like hot spots on the wearer and energize the surrounding space. And yet, the images in this show project sensitivity as they refer to how we, often as aliens, encounter our inner and interrelationships.
Kaplan excels in the use of unmatched earrings to comment on communication. Heart on a Sleeve is a male/female dialogue carried on from one ear to another; in contrast, the Twilight Zoned duo watch like psychic aliens released at the frontiers of the wearer’s mind. Kitty Bliss shows a cat eyeing first a fish, then the fish bones. A delightful inversion, the mobile earrings enact the prologue and epilogue; the active part of the tale, the fish being eaten, happens offstage in the imagination.
- Left: Allan Burton Thompson, Dugout brooch, basswood, cameo, 22k gold leaf, glass beads, plastic, paint, coral, 5″h., 1987
Right: Jung-Hoo Kim, Living Now brooch, sterling silver, gold, postage stamp, 5″h., 1986
In Candomble, earrings conjoin images from primal memory to question fundamental human identity and emotions. As they perch on a red acrylic branch, a birdlike couple, of etched brass and niobium, wears human faces and blue-violet plumage with gold and silver accents. The base, a lagged chunk of slate, supports connections between spirit, life and earth.
The artist’s visual commentary suffused the entire gallery with a playful wit that challenged the viewer to constant readjustment of self-image.
Like Alice, I want to step into the miniature world of Visitation. Happy Birthday in the Palace, a translation of Chagall’s painting into a colorful silhouette brooch. The charming Giacometti-inspired “palace,” in which the transplanted Chagall figures are aliens, is a metaphor for the mind that holds the gift-giving experience.
Trouble in Paradise, two sets and stage concern scale and context; the former is a seven-foot-tall humanoid structure that impels one-to-one interaction; the others, represented by maquettes, are 15-foot high metal tube and wire outline figures through whom the actor pass, as if jewelry is wearing them.
Resonant Aliens was a dramatic and beautiful presentation of Enid Kaplan’s multidimensional creative expression. I responded to her work because as she exercised and exorcised her aliens, she summoned the aliens resonating in and out of my own mind as well.
The Higgins Armory Museum, Worcester, MA
April 23-September 11, 1988
by Curtis K. LaFollette
“Re:Visions” better titled “Gothic Kitsch” is an exhibition of 31 pieces produced by Tim McCreight between 1985 and 1988. The exhibition included small cups, goblets, boxes, utensils, bottles and hand mirrors. These objects, according to the artist, represent a personal response to medieval metalwork. The work seems a natural evolution of the small engraved boxes and pocket knives that he has been developing for several years. There is also evidence of Jack Prip’s whimsical, abstract animal brooches of the 60s and Robert van Neumann’s use of biomorphic surface decoration.
- Enid Kaplan, Candomble, Earrings on base
14k gold, sterling silver, niobium, etched brass, slate, acrylic, coated wire
While there are obvious connections between this body of work and McCreight’s earlier efforts, there is also the impression of a self-conscious attempt to redefine the nature and purpose of his imagery. Take for example the Noah bowl. The underlying unity of imagery and function that characterized the philosophy of the middle ages is missing. In its place, McCreight has combined the least desirable aspects of medieval craftsmanship with an imitation of naive animal abstraction that defeats a harmonious synthesis. The cartoon-like character of the animals and the limited definition of the chasing tends to trivialize the vessel. These animals should have had the power to form a conceptual base from which content could evolve. Meanwhile, an overly aggressive attack on symmetry seems to visually contradict a reading of Noah’s mythical survival. Back in the Middle Ages, visual metaphors would have been conceptually unified in he ornamentation of the entire surface, in a manner consistent with its theme. In this instance, McCreight’s tendency to restrict ornamentatory belies his veiled struggle with form, and technique in service to imagery.
- Visitation: Happy Birthday in the Palace, 1988
14k, sterling, niobium, copper, shell, brass, wood, paint
In contrast, there is a 1985 goblet which is an outstanding success. It is executed in silver, gold and crystal, with garnet and engraved decoration. It reflects a broad range of medieval influences as well as a hint of 20th-century austerity. The result is a piece with content, suggestive of the mystical reality of Christian ritual, capable of conjuring the deepest religious experience.
Another goblet produced in 1987 is probably more illustrative of the entire exhibition. It, too, is executed in silver and gold, but adorned with hematites and engraving. The engraving is beautifully executed and the various forms and ornament are integrated with subtlety and imagination. However, the interior finish of the cup is rougher than necessary and interlaces with the powerful iconography of the vessel. The feeling persists that unresolved conflict has been created rather than tension within a continuity of ideas.
This show presents a series of contradictions. There is excellent work present; but it is outweighed by confused and inappropriate combinations of form, ornament and technique, as well as a general lack of coherent content. It must be noted more positively, that the exhibition reveals numerous insights into the process of developing a new personal imagery. The process is replete with false starts, blind alleys, sudden flashes of brilliance and some unsuccessful combinations.
Bernd Munsteiner’s Private Collection
H. Stern Jewelers, New York City
May 24 June 11, 1988
by Deborah Aguado
Munsteiner has a sensitivity to form strongly influenced by his knowledge of gemstones. His stones are so exquisite in quality, color and cut, that to create mere vehicles for them would be sufficient; however, much more happens here. As the originator of the “negative cut,” which Munsteiner describes as natures way, he approaches the rough surface of the crystal from the underside; its image transposed in the displacement of light. That the very nature of each mineral is revealed in this way was a discovery Munsteiner made early in his cutting career.
Visual phenomena is what he tracks; he advances into the stone, discovering and amplifying what is already there. By reducing material he maximizes brilliance; he suggests dimension by taking away. The negative cut is an attack on the stone; it is not a facet, not a plan, but a wedge removed.
Contrary to the aims of commercial gemstone cutting (to maximize carat weight). Munsteiner removes material but not arbitrarily, for what he is after is gemstone phenomena, reflection and refraction. His stones superbly communicate his experience in cutting, his interaction with the material. They are joyous expressions of his spirit as he follows the light, cuts and feels for what he hopes will be there. Looking into one of my favorite tourmalines in this exhibition was like skin diving, into a shaft of brilliant green through alternating currents of indicolite blue. Only Munsteiner knows how to capture this quality.
His #36, Natural Movement, a sculpture of smoky quartz, 2535 carats, had a crystalline outer surface, which was polished to reveal an unusually dense, distorted pattern, as if it was under water. His sculptures are magnificent as studies of pure form; yet, they are so much more when you consider the material from which they are made.
Hermann Jünger: Jewelry after 1945
June 26-August 21, Germanisches National-museum Nurnberg
September 15-October 30, Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt
November 10, 1988- January 22, 1989, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg
February 18-April 9, 1989, Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim by Joke van Ommen
The first impression of this retrospective, occasioned by Jünger’s 60th birthday, is one of shimmering gold ornaments, that seem to belong to undiscovered medieval cultures, mythical kingdoms and the faraway places of our imagination. There are associations with reliquaries and ancient regalia in the pieces covered with precious stones, but others show connections with witchcraft, amulets and voodoo. To understand these powers we will have to enter into the world of our fantasy and imagination, of feelings and intuition.
The very personal and emotional aspects of adornment form a connecting thread throughout Jünger’s work. And although many pieces are made in gold and even covered with precious and semiprecious stones, they are never ostentatious. They never flaunt materials values. Their value lies deeper in personal relationships—in the intimate relationship between the maker, the jewelry and the wearer.
Jünger’s work is strongly rooted in the tradition of the goldsmith’s craft. It is painterly, nature-inspired and romantic. Drawing, in many cases, is a starting point for making the work.
The exhibition clearly distinguishes Jünger’s stylistic periods. The earliest work, from the 50s is mostly amorphous shapes, cabochon settings and an emphasis on surface treatment. The first “tribal” ritualistic pieces were made at this time, and also the earliest stone studded pieces.
In the 60s the forms become simpler, more compact and geometric. There is an emphasis on enamel; the use of color becomes careful and subtle.
The 70s are a time of liberation and great freedom of expression. The “row-series” was created with round or oval pins, studded with rows of little irregular dots in many varieties and in many different materials, from enamel to granulation.
The latest work in the exhibit, dating from the last few years shows the sure hand of the master. The forms are bold and without hesitation. Older themes are used and played with in new and expressive ways.
The exhibition is accompanied by a complete 192 page catalog (140 photographs, 73 in color), available from VO Galerie, Washington, DC (202-293-0249) for $25.00, plus shipping. The catalog is in German, with an accompanying English translation.
Joe Wood, Beverly Penn
August 1-31, 1988
Quadrum Gallery, Chestnut Hill, MA
by Claire Sanford
The work of Beverly Penn and Joe Wood is markedly different but they share a desire to explore jewelry for its sculptural possibilities. Each compels the wearer to think about what is placed on the body or held in the hand.
Wood’s current work follows past concerns by focusing on the unadorned appeal of organic materials so as to “demonstrate and celebrate the dynamic interplay of basic material, space and structure.” There is an inventiveness and elegance to his jewelry, as seen in chain designs that articulate more gracefully than their rigid lines suggest. One series of brooches involves small openwork cages that contain rough fragments of white alabaster.
Another series sets a single shell into an open frame held tenuously in place by thin black threads. Intended to be the reinterpretation of what is often associated with kitsch or tourist-type jewelry, in this setting the shell transcends the commonplace is seen simply for its intrinsic beauty. The logarithmic spiral of the shell illustrates natural harmony and, like drawings by Da Vinci that diagram perfect human proportion, Wood’s jewelry explores the relationship between an organic form and a system of order and measure. He is aware of how we exist in a world that imposes geometry on us, and his jewelry both refers to and makes use of the tension occurring at that point of convergence.
Wood creates work that appears to be delivered out of perfection with undeviating attention paid to precise, meticulous craftsmanship and reductive formality. It is clear that perfection and control are primary concerns, not just of technical perfection for its own sake but for the purity and potency that such work embodies.
The jewelry of Beverly Penn is forceful as well as delicate, created by a careful eye and balanced in a way that can’t be arrived at through symmetry. The strength of this work seems to lie in its contradictions. Her shapes originate from “shields, armor, tools and weapons” but the forms and colors have a sensuous quality that is decidedly feminine. Like Wood, Penn works in series, using the repetition of details to tie the pieces together. In one series, a gently domed disk seems to be both shield and breastlike. Small, rounded spikes interrupt the surface of the metal, sometimes arranged in geometric patterns but usually just emerging as random whiskers. Details hold much of the vitality of this work, using variations in line and discrete markings to draw the eye across a surface or around an edge.
Penn’s jewelry is oversized without being aggressive. The size confronts the wearer with how and where to place it on the body but its presence is not imposing. The pieces cling to or travel across the body in sympathy to the human form and have a definite delicacy which seems a challenge to their scale. Several pieces make reference to brushes, using stiffly kinked wires or comblike termination points to reiterate the file-textured finish and spiny elements. Because of the consistent sensitivity of the organic lines and surfaces throughout Penn’s work, the tense mechanical wires seem severe and out of context.
Color appears as a muted skin stretched over the pregnant forms. The metal is either dead white or warm olive-brown and in a few pieces, elongated elements of matt opaque enamel add a monochromatic stroke of primary color. Looking at the enameled pieces in particular, Penn reveals an honest influence from her teacher, Jamie Bennett, in choice of enamel surface, edge treatment and silhouette. Influence is often a charged term, usually taken negatively, but it is not meant as such, and merely extends a deeper understanding of the work.
Penn relates her jewelry to weapons or implements and describes the pieces as being talismanic or charmlike. The intimate scale makes them so, but they lack the communicative power of a defined symbology. As pieces of jewelry they are striking, evocative and enigmatic. As objects they seem less like weapons and more like ancient tools used to apply paints and powders for ritualistic self-adornment. As forms, they are sensual and alluring, with even the long, slender brooches carrying an explicitly feminine quality.
It was unfortunate that this exhibition was not given more private space within the gallery. The pieces were crowded into Quadrum’s ornate display area, which did little to support the individualism of Wood and Penn’s work. In displaying jewelry of this nature, the space around the pieces has increased bearing on how the work is accepted and understood. On the other hand, Quadrum is to be commended for its desire to display progressive and unusual work, given the commercial nature of the gallery’s location.
Helen Drutt Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
May 4-June 18, 1988
by Eleni Cocordas
If Linda MacNeil’s recent exhibition had been given a special title, it would have been “Transpositions.” Common to the entire group were the consummate craftsmanship, the keenly intelligent and joyful use of color and bold handling of geometric forms. But this show also indicated a reordering of their balance in the work, a shift in thinking that was played up by the gallery installation, separating the new work from the old.
The earlier pieces are conventional assemblies of finely cut and polished glass (or, in one case, granite) beads in repeat patterns, densely packed and rhythmically altered by smaller gold or silver beads and joinery. The emphasis is on the dramatic shape; the beads and metalwork, however exquisite in decorative and/or functional detail, remain quietly in the background.
Metal, meanwhile, is everything in the new work, or so it seems with a first look at this suite of gold-plated brass works. Its role has become vastly expanded, both iconically and structurally, in flat, planer circular collars or triangular torques marked by curvilinear grace. Brought to the fore, the metal becomes important as a brilliant primary color as well as introducing the glass, which now appears refined as a unique element in the work. Actually, in this turnabout, a kind of alchemy has transformed—elevated—the glass to the status of well-defined gems.
- Linda MacNeil, Neckpiece
Gold-plated brass, tint-etched glass, green, lavender, 1988
Photo: Eric Mitchell
I should note that a 1988 work, one of black, white and yellow glass beads with 14 karat gold, adheres to earlier themes. And, ironically, the earliest piece (1984) shows evidence of the new direction. Composed of pale, transparently colored glass and sterling silver, it anticipates the more architectural nature of the new work with its extended metal frame and murky glass colorations. In its imagery, one can see the broad outline and flattened sweep of the new, plated, circular collar with citron-yellow glass planes.
An ideal synthesis of both approaches, in a new set of neckpiece, bracelet and earrings, shows metal and glass materializing in harmony. The gold-plated brass, circular in shape and triply striated, carries individually set glass cubes of super-saturated and subtle colors, chosen with the greatest of care. The earrings, most diminutive of all, reflect on occasional humor in MacNeil’s work. These earrings seem like a reference to her collaborations with artist/husband Dan Dailey. They have an active anthropomorphic and animistic quality, which, in their humor, bring out the “pop” of the earlier bead work and make them seem saccharine alongside the new jewelry.
Metal and glass are both MacNeil’s media and, I suspect, will be subject to a varying balance of attentions and intentions in her jewelry over time. Their transpositions in this exhibition, however, demonstrate moves from funk to luxe, from sport to elegance, from an irreverence to a more seriousness of purpose—all without the loss of an elan that is quintessentially hers. It’s still a coherent body of jewelry. But the newest works suggest objects in their own right as well as ornament for the human form.
I saw some visual connections between MacNeil’s new work and Minoan material culture of thousands of years back. It seems “La Parisiennel,” the noblewoman depicted in one of the well-known frescoes found at the Palace of Knossos, would have worn jewelry like this: luxurious jewelry of bright and gold and other clearly delineated, intense colors and basic shapes, altogether bold in their decorative impulse and imagery while matched, at the same time, by restraint. With these progressive and opulent recombinations, Linda MacNeil’s new work is, simply put, dazzling.
VO Galerie, Washington, D.C.
June 2-30, 1988
by Vanessa S. Lynn
When Rebekah Laskin assembles a body of new work, her logic is refreshingly clear. This is not to say she is transparent or simplistic; far from it. It is just that Laskin is secure enough to reveal the stages through which she has passed on the way to gaining command of a difficult idea. It makes for an illuminating presentation. In these pieces, Laskin has, for the first time, pierced her painterly surface. Instead of cutting out, she has cut right into the surface, creating a slit or window.
The exhibition unfolds with a collection of seven arrowhead brooches. The shapes are organic and the Japanese-inspired surfaces are awash with subtle tonal changes that allude to the crusty effluvium often enshrouding buried artifacts.
The critical juncture in her conceptual process lies in a group of eight pins with Laskin’s first surface penetrations. Linear slits are controlled and highly calculated. They are studies in succinctness, the Zen search for the “rightness” of each element. Compared to the familiar Laskin surface, the color is unusually simple and opaque. It is the figure/ground relationship that she wants to investigate. A long, narrow triangle and a thin, linear rectangle are cut side by side into a circular, bluish field. The blue is most intense in the center where these openings are placed. Running diagonally over and through the upper left segment of the cuts is a very narrow strip of pink. Counterpointing this directional thrust is a square of pink at the lower right of the circle and the outline of an unfinished small pink square bleeding off the upper left of the composition. The special success of this piece stems from the interplay of the illusory (pink slash) and actual surface piercing.
If these pieces seem like preliminary studies, the subsequent group of eight enameled constructions is the culminating achievement. The plexiglass support that invisibly backed the copper plane of the preceding works is now expressed by the surface copper sheet, which is manipulated down and around the plastids edge. It is only an eighth of an inch in depth but it immediately transforms the object into a box. When the artist then cuts a single, off-centered window into each structure, framing it out from behind, she creates a new dimension. Each aperture is filled—with perhaps coiled copper wire, screening or a piece of etched steel-creating a “sous-relief,” where the back is raised from under the surface. These apertures seem to be metaphors for the portals of mind through which Laskin herself has passed. There is a new expressionism as colors effortlessly float and hover on one surface, only to be charged by Twombly-like markings.
Perhaps the architectonic nature of the structure is responsible for the reading of the surfaces as a collection of shimmering, miragelike walls. In one, the textural density that might be created by years of exposure and neglect—the beauty of urban decay—seems miraculously sealed within the surface. The window appears like the goddess-bearing niche of a Toltec pyramid. These surfaces seem to protect the secrets of past civilizations.
The seven of the eight works, the artist has succeeded in making the window an integral embodiment or enhancement of the surface. In only one, an exquisite gestural canvas, does the window actually halt the flow of surface energy in this densely beautiful composite of blacks, pale blues and burnt oranges.
It should be noted that these pieces remain unframed. In a sense, framing would have belittled these statements, effectively confining them to the space they inhabit. They grow larger for being unframed, and the viewer, too, grows for the experience.