A Contemporary Jewellery Odyssey. An exhibition review by Makiko Akiyama

Published: 15.07.2019
Makiko Akiyama
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Exhibition view at The Museum of Arts & Crafts ITAMI. © Celine Sylvestre..
Exhibition view at The Museum of Arts & Crafts ITAMI. © Celine Sylvestre.

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A group exhibition entitled “Contemporary Jewellery Odyssey” took place from April 6 to May 6 at The Museum of Arts & Crafts ITAMI in Hyogo, Japan. It was the fourth instalment of the travelling exhibition of the same name that has toured France, South Korea and Germany since 2017. It featured twelve artists: three from each of France, South Korea, China and Japan.

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Filling the space were plinths of different heights, and sitting atop each one were the works of an artist or two. A face or two of each individual plinth was blue-colored, which tightened up the venue’s impression and helped to build a sense of unity. Also, despite the large number of exhibits (approximately 120 pieces from about 50 different series)1, the show was free of any glass protection. This brave decision allowed visitors to appreciate every piece with no distraction from reflections on the glass surface.

According to the exhibition overview, The starting point of this exhibition emerged from the desire of 3 French jewelers to showcase the richness of the artist-in-residencies’ they attended in China, South Korea and Japan2. Therefore, these French artists’ works inevitably demonstrated the active adoption of different cultures. For example, Marion Delarue has repeatedly learned and developed local techniques during her overseas studies in a few Asian countries and commented on modern society through her works including FengHuang (2014/2015) and Parrot Devotees (2016-2019) that stemmed from her research in China.

Marion Delarue, Parrot Devotee 5, 2018. Shoulder’s brooch. Natural feathers of pigeons, pheasants and roosters, rice paper pulp, silver, steel wire. 9 x 7 x 5 cm. From series: Parrot Devotees. © Marion Delarue

Given that the number of participants from each country was limited to three, it was difficult to decipher any regional consistency solely from this exhibition. Rather, the show was noteworthy because it provided both contemporary jewellery connoisseurs and beginners with a starting point for a discussion on jewellery through a wide range of expressions, including the ingenious and critical use of different materials, reference to the space and environment around the body and jewellery, and an exploration of bold forms.
Li Liang’s jewellery crafted from accordion-folded paper-thin metal plates overcame the common belief that metal can yield to other materials in terms of size allowance and rich colors (lightness could probably be added if it had been allowed to touch the exhibits). Her pieces could be compared to a collection of poems. They share the same language and rhyme with well-selected words while also conjuring up a variety of images, from a vibrant life force to a peacefulness reminiscent of the unruffled surface of a lake.

Li Liang, Line, 2017, Necklace. Copper. © Li Liang

If a piece of Li Liang’s jewellery was a poem, each of Junwon Jung’s work was a philosophical observation. In his jewellery, very basic pin (occasionally earring) findings played a vital role in sustaining the entire structure or content. One could discuss them as additions to the history of innovative brooch designs such as Brooch pin and Disc brooch (both 1983) by Herman Hermsen and Stick by Johanna Dahm (1982)3. Without knowing these predecessors, however, it should have been clear in the viewers’ eyes that he successfully proved that the art of jewellery could be embodied through an intellectual exploration of small findings.

Junwon Jun, Stern, 2018, Brooch. Plastic, silver, found objects. © Junwon Jung

Mian Wu, Bra gold, 2015, Object. Bras used by workers in a gold factory, gold, brass, silver, brass, gold plated. 14 x 14 x 3 cm. From series: Gold Jewelry. © Mian Wu

Mian Wu’s Gold Pendant Bra used by female workers in jewelry factory contains 0.07 g gold shed light on the role of gold as an accelerator of human desire and economic disparity by visualizing the process of collecting a tiny amount of gold from clothing and the carpet in a gold factory. The combination of a worn bra with jewellery, an object with a proximity to the body, conjured up a sense of disgust, which reinforced the meaning of the work.
I won’t linger to review all the participants, but a quick glance at some of the pieces would be enough to imagine how this show could help start a conversation on contemporary jewellery among both aficionados and beginners. At times, an exhibition of this particular kind of jewellery may confuse viewers with its radical and conceptual slant. Or, too much focus on materials could create the wrong impression that contemporary jewellery is all about alternative materials. In view of these negative possibilities, this show’s careful selection of artists and works should be highly evaluated.
The inclusion of the word odyssey in the exhibition’s title suggests the French participants’ experience of artist-in-residence programmes, the individual jeweller’s artistic exploration and the form of the exhibition (as a travelling exhibition). As such, how could one turn this experience into their own intellectual odyssey? It really depends on their continuous speculation as to what a piece of jewellery can be.

Exhibition view. © Makiko Akiyama.

  1. Based on correspondence with Marion Delarue on June 4, 2019.
  2. The quote is taken from an exhibition overview on The Museum of Arts & Crafts ITAMI website. (
  3. There are a lot more examples of ingenious pin mechanisms in the context of contemporary author jewellery, including The Royal Piece (1988) by Otto Künzli.

About the author

Makiko Akiyama. Writer and translator. Born in 1979 in Osaka, Japan. In 2013 launched a newsletter for Japanese readers featuring translated articles about art jewelry. Contributing writer for klimt02, Current Obsession, Art Jewelry Forum, and Norwegian Crafts.