Those of us who collect and admire art jewelry love it for what it is — the work of artistic individuals who break from the traditional confines of jewelry to produce wearable art. But the form is on the cusp of a breakout, says Susan Cummins, the founder and chair of the Art Jewelry Forum, a fact that will interest not just long-time adherents but also collectors of other traditional forms of art and jewelry.
The Art Jewelry Forum is the premier organization dedicated to contemporary art jewelry. In a recent interview, Cummins recently discussed with me the history of art jewelry and her vision of its future.
Sharon Berman: Where does art jewelry stand today in the art world and among collectors, and what do you see for the next several years?
Susan Cummins: Art jewelry may be the last bastion of affordable collectability in the art world. While prices of name art jewelers have escalated in the marketplace in the past five years, they are still within reach compared with the exploding prices of art world. This will not be the case for long. There are strong indications that smart art and design collectors have begun to discover this area of collectability
SB: Art Jewelry comes from artists who often have been trained in universities and schools rather than in a traditional apprenticeship with a goldsmith. Why is this gaining in value?
SC: These artists use their training to make jewelry out of any kind of material at hand and are often asking questions or experimenting with new ideas of what jewelry can be or is. They are not artists or designers who have come up with an idea and have asked a goldsmith to make it for them. These distinctions have made it hard for art jewelry to be recognized as a special movement of its own. But that is changing.
Although the art jewelry movement is more than 50 years old it is just now beginning to be more widely recognized. In the past 10 years several art jewelry collections have gone into prominent museum collections, and that has given the public a chance to see and appreciate it. There is a big collection just going into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that will open in a year, and recently the Dallas Museum of Art announced the acquisition of a 700-piece collection from a renowned European collector, Eva Asenbaum. It was donated to the museum by Deedie Rose, a patron of the museum.
SB: Is art jewelry going to remain affordable or jump out of reach for most of us?
SC: Because most of this work doesn’t use precious metals or expensive gemstones it has been relatively inexpensive, especially if you compare it to traditional jewelry or art in the current market place. So the value of it has been based on the reputation of the artist and the desirability of the work. Very few pieces have gone to auction so that also hasn’t been a determining factor, except in specific cases such as Alexander Calder, whose prices have skyrocketed. He is an example of a mid-century artist who made the work himself and the auction prices have reflected a big increase in the value of his work. However to answer your question, there are still many jewelers, especially young and emerging ones whose prices are still be affordable.
SB: Why is now the time that artistic expression through jewelry has come to the fore?
SC: The field of art jewelry is decades old, and although it’s really just beginning to be more widely recognized, many of the pioneers have established a fantastic body of work. Some of them have produced monographs and other material that validate their oeuvre. Then they have been followed by the students they taught and other art jewelers of a younger generation who have also had time to make their mark. So the generations are growing and contributing to the impact of these objects on the culture at large.
SB: It seems that you envision this maturing trend will continue.
SC: Yes, I see the whole field continuing to expand and the validity of it being confirmed by collectors, critics, curators, museums, and publications. There are lots of unexplored areas for research and study and as people take up those explorations we will learn more and more about this fascinating field. At Art Jewelry Forum we are producing articles online and books in print that feature this kind of important story-telling about the history and evolution of art jewelry.
Art Jewelry Forum (AJF) is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the creation, study and appreciation of art jewelry. http://www.artjewelryforum.org