Dialogues in Gold represents a rare chance to view over a hundred works in gold, titanium and platinum, dating from the past thirty years, by London contemporary jeweler Jacqueline Mina. The opportunity, following the prestigious offer of a show by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, is an exciting one for curators and collectors alike, drawing as it does on extensive loans from both public and private collections. Mina, who won the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize for Jewellery in 2000, is one of only a handful of British jewelers who has developed a consistently imaginative vision for contemporary work in gold, and it is fascinating to see works collected together, in the historic setting of Goldsmiths’ Hall in London.
Over the past year, I have worked closely with Jacqueline Mina to consider and select works that represent key milestones in her development as an artist and maker. It has been a valuable and thought-provoking process, which has involved long hours of discussion to refine and agree on a selection that draws on both the intimate knowledge of the maker and the broader experience of the curator. We have identified a number of major pieces which, for both of us, encapsulate her vision in particularly eloquent form and which illustrate significant strands of her artistic approach to goldsmithing.
These key pieces each form the centerpiece of a display, enhanced by a further ten to fifteen works that support and develop the special qualities of the central work. In this way it is hoped to suggest, by visual means, as well as written, different ways of considering the works on view. For example, one grouping, under the heading of Cycladic Forms, contains a magnificent curved pendant and series of brooches in eighteen karat gold, fusion inlaid with tiny chips of platinum, from the early 1990s, on loan from private collections. The shape of the forms recalls the outline of the beautiful Cycladic heads, found in collections such as the Goulandris Museum in Athens—a place Mina knows and takes inspiration. But, of course, outlines are not a literal transcription: an informed viewer can see a trace or imprint of the original work but the artist has distilled this, through impressive craft, into a striking piece of modern jewelry.
Another consistent source of inspiration for Mina has been her deep engagement with the natural world. The magnificent platinum Pod necklace from 2000—loaned from the collection of the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art—seems to embody nature, with each individually fashioned platinum pod enriched with glimpses of gold, enfolded in the form—like tiny seeds. However, as with the Cycladic inspired necklace, although there is a clear trace or memory of the thing seen, the imagination and practiced hand of the artist creates something new: an object whose magical qualities pay homage to, but do not seek to imitate, the natural world.
Mina’s achievements can be seen in a skillful interweaving of informed design thinking and breathtaking material improvisation resting on long, patient hours at the bench. A good example would be her innovative technical mastery of platinum: a material whose unyielding physical properties have rarely found artistic champions. A grouping in the exhibition focuses entirely on her work with platinum. At its center is a striking fifteen disk necklace, from the mid 1980s, owned by the Goldsmiths’ Company, with each disk roller imprinted and hand-burnished to create a delicate surface tracery reminiscent of a leaf form or the folds of fabric. The sense of lightness and improvisation Mina achieves with this hard metal is a delight, and the delight deepens with knowledge of the exceptional technical mastery that has underpinned it.
One case in the exhibition is entirely devoted to the private collection of a Middle Eastern princess, such as the inlaid, oxidized cuff bracelet illustrated. As well as an exciting opportunity to view specially commissioned works, rarely, if ever, shown before, this private group reminds us of another source of inspiration to Mina—namely those who will wear her work. Rather like the magnificent Fortuny fabrics which inspire some of her surface inlays, Mina’s jewelry is sensuous and exciting to wear. Necklaces drape and fold comfortably against the skin; earrings and rings have a subtle balance of detail, which is tactile and catches the light when works are worn.
This attentiveness, in order to create something of beauty, which enhances the human form, recalls other British work such as the crepe wool and jersey suits and dresses of the late Jean Muir. As with Muir’s work, the true genius of the form, and the craftsmanship, is only fully realized when the work is worn. On display, pieces can seem understated, even reticent; once handled and worn the experience is one of extraordinary sensuous pleasure, which allows the wearer to shine. It is no surprise that the private loans come from those who own many pieces of Mina’s work. As with Muir, Mina’s supporters tend to be lifelong.
Opening January 31 to February 26, 2011, Dialogues in Gold is a wonderful testament to the artistry of an exceptional contemporary goldsmith and many thanks are due to the Goldsmiths’ Company for making such a show possible.
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