Belinda Esperson

Unexpected Pleasures

A few weeks ago I arrived back home in Melbourne just in time to see an exhibition of contemporary jewellery at the National Gallery of Victoria “Unexpected Pleasures” curated by established contemporary jeweller Susan Cohn. I admit that having just spent several months visiting contemporary jewellery galleries in northern Europe, I wasn’t expecting to be amazed – but having grown up in Melbourne and been aware of Susan Cohn’s work since the early 80’s, I was keen to see what the exhibition was about. Well for me it was indeed an unexpected pleasure.

The exhibition examined via examples and text what is contemporary jewellery and its relationship with art, design, craft and traditional jewellery. As a contemporary jeweller still working to define exactly what it is that I do and why (which I suspect will be an ongoing, lifelong quest – as it is for many makers and artists) it was a very interesting and timely enquiry. I found myself asking where do I fit within the broad categories Susan had defined.

As a maker it was also fantastic to have such an exhibition showcasing contemporary jewellery to a wider public in one of Australia’s major art galleries and creating greater awareness of the breadth of practice. Most importantly however it provided a context for contemporary jewellery – clearly differentiating it from the mass produced jewellery available in high street stores and looking at the range of motivations and sources of inspiration behind a broad collection of pieces.

I enjoyed seeing the range of work ‘in the flesh’ however it was the text that I was particularly interested in and I’m still working my way through the catalogue which I am greatly enjoying reading. The historical and commercial references describing the context for contemporary jewellery are so on my wavelength – with my background in design and branding and business these are issues I have thought about and it is great to see them brought together in one discussion and expressed so eloquently.

I have to admit however that I was a little disappointed with the production quality of the catalogue – compromised no doubt due to budget constraints. As something that could have been as enticing as the jewellery it discusses, it looks and feels like a text book and the production quality makes the jewellery look more like products that they are not. A small grumble about an otherwise excellent exhibition.

Unexpected Pleasures opens at the Design Museum in London in December 2012 where I’m sure it will be a great success – as the question of ‘what is contemporary jewellery’ is definitely a discussion that needs to be had in the UK where contemporary jewellery is still very marginal (despite the colleges there producing many good graduates).

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Belinda Esperson