An exhibition at the Cranbrook Museum of Art outside Detroit examines the jewellery of the mid-century American sculptor and designer Harry Bertoia.
The show, called Bent, Cast & Forged: The Jewelry of Harry Bertoia, includes more than 30 pieces of jewellery and several monotype prints from his early career. It is the first exhibition dedicated to this area of his work.
Bertoia – a graduate of Cranbrook who is better known for his furniture and sculptures – was an early pioneer of the modern studio jewellery movement, which promoted the pieces as wearable sculpture.
He began making pieces in high school, and the medium was an important testing ground in his development as a artist and designer.
The works in Bent, Cast & Forged vary widely in size, type, and style, including chunky rings, delicate plant-inspired brooches, and abstract nest-like hatpins.
Nature, and microbiology in particular, was a strong influence on his forms, according to the exhibition’s curator Shelley Selim.
Much of the work in the show dates from the 1930s and 1940s when Bertoia was a student, and later an instructor, at Cranbrook.
He would go on to wide acclaim in art and design in the 1950s and 1960s, adapting and evolving ideas and techniques he first explored in his jewellery, according to Selim.
“As Bertoia transitioned into larger sculptural works in the 1950s, the artist continued to undertake a constructivist investigation of reduced forms and planes and their interaction with space, but the economy of line, liminality, and tension exhibited in his jewellery established a foundation for these experimentations in metals,” Selim writes in the exhibition’s catalogue.
Bertoia went on to collaborate with many noted architects and designers of the period, including Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll, both of whom were also affiliated with Cranbrook.
He created iconic pieces of furniture like the metal furniture series for Knoll and a glinting alter sculpture at the chapel at the Massachussettes Institute of Technology designed by Saarinen. He also created and played “sonambient” metal sculptures, which move and make delicate sounds.
The architecture of the Cranbrook Academy and Art Museum was largely created by Eero’s father Eliel Saarinen, and its campus is a destination for design enthusiasts. The designer and curator Andrew Blauvelt was recently named director of the museum.
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