The ugliest and loveliest of jewellery on show


Janice Breen Burns

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Jewellery... but not as you know it

A new exhibition at the National Gallery, Unexpected Pleasures, questions our traditional perceptions of jewellery.

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UNEXPECTED Pleasures, an exhibition of the world's ugliest, loveliest, most intriguing contemporary jewellery, opened at the National Gallery of Victoria International yesterday.

''Everything here is designed to be worn,'' said guest curator and jewellery designer Susan Cohn.

Visitors took that as a challenge, moving through 180 dimly lit curiosities by the world's most radical designers, trying to imagine what it would be like to wear a necklace of glass and ceramic dildos. Or a tubular ''veil'' collar like a pearly plastic version of Ned Kelly's helmet. Or a cluster of rusted bolts and nails on a silver ''Screw Ring''.

Beverley Price, South Africa, All Gold is Gold (2005-06).

Beverley Price, South Africa, All Gold is Gold (2005-06). Photo: PowerMac G5

''After procreation and survival, our next instinct as humans is adornment,'' Cohn said when asked, ''Why?''


''Adornment is about attracting a mate, which in turn, is about procreation and survival.''

Some humans, however, obviously require more complex, intellectual adornments than others. ''Yes, some wearers will want something that speaks that way for them,'' Cohn said. Among the exhibits was a vast choice of such expression, from the minimalist exquisitry of a grey sunray-pleated yoke, to a clump of small pale ''tumours'', photographed bursting through a model's frock. The latter was in a category of radical ideas.

Caroline Broadhead, England, Veil, necklace (1983).

Caroline Broadhead, England, Veil, necklace (1983).

NGV director Gerard Vaughan said the exhibition offered ''a fresh view of the many meanings associated with jewellery''.

The visiting director of London's Design Museum, Deyan Sudjic, said it was the result of a ''long, drawn-out, cerebral process'', and that is precisely how it felt.

Unexpected Pleasures: The Art and Design of Contemporary Jewellery, is a Design Museum, London, exhibition funded by the Joan and Peter Clemenger Trust.

It is free and runs until August 26, when it will travel to London.

A public lecture, The Language of Things by Deyan Sudjic, Susan Cohn and exhibition designer Ab Rogers, is on tonight from 6pm at the NGV.

From: The Age