Jewelry has a personal connection with its maker, its wearer, and the observer. The meaning shifts depending on who is wearing it and where and when it is worn.

For centuries, jewelry has been associated with elevated social status, beauty, value, rarity, and technical virtuosity. This exhibition examines how twelve contemporary artists working with jewelry evaluate and question these traditional perceptions of jewelry. Artists featured are: Ashley Buchanan, Jeanette Caines, Lin Cheung, Giovanni Corvaja, Mary Lee Hu, Gabriella Kiss, Otto Kunzli, emiko oye, Mary Hallam Pearse, Nicole Jacquard, Anya Kivarkis, and Kiff Slemmons.

Organized into seven sections, the jeweler’s bench, which has existed in different configurations since antiquity, is the centerpiece of the exhibition—demonstrating that a deep knowledge of traditional methods of production is at the root of these artists’ practices. The other themes, addressing multiple avenues of critical investigation are: The Lure of Ancient Gold, Cameos and Memory, Value and Fashion, La Peregrina, Power and Prestige, and Archetypes and Attachments. Each juxtaposes contemporary works with historical antecedents. This method illuminates how the contemporary artists critically interpret historical material, form, technique, and style. Their jewelry is not a passive source of pleasure for the wearer but instead delivers a critical and, at times, provocative message.

Historical pieces on view include ancient Etruscan goldwork, a Hellenistic antefix and wedding vase that depict jewelry being worn in antiquity, the Kul Oba brooch by the Castellani firm, the Wade necklace by Tiffany & Co., a nineteenth-century masterwork wrought in diamonds and platinum; and sentimental jewelry—which continues to emote long after leaving its original owners’ hands.

A broad array of digital presentations throughout includes demonstrations of the jewelry-making process from concept to realization and a wide spectrum of visual resources that artists use in the study of jewelry history.

The curator, Sasha Nixon, received her MA from Bard Graduate Center in May of 2018. In celebration of its 25th Anniversary, Bard Graduate Center is pleased to present an exhibition curated by an alumna and developed from her Exhibition Qualifying Paper.

Support for A View from the Jeweler’s Bench: Ancient Treasures, Contemporary Statements has been provided by David Yurman; Gus Davis—Camilla Dietz Bergeron, ltd; and donors to Bard Graduate Center.

Special thanks to the Society of North American Goldsmiths and its Emerging Curators Grant Program.