Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum: 91st St & 5th Ave

If you like diamonds or jewelry in general the current exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum is the place for you.  This museum, which was once the Georgian-style Andrew Carnegie mansion (which was the first residence in the country with steel frame and an Otis elevator), is located along "Museum Mile" just a block north of the Guggenheim Museum and is dedicated to historical and modern design.  For hours, admission information and times of free guided tours, check out the museum website at http://www.cooperhewitt.org/

The amazing and luxurious jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels is showcased beautifully; there is a free audio/visual tour that you can get on a borrowed iPAD (just bring your drivers license as collateral) that provides great insight into the exhibit.  The exhibit takes into account the architecture of the mansion's long halls, sun room, and various room sizes to feature the jewelry to their best advantage.  For example, the sun room has a giant cloche filled with enameled and diamond encrusted butterflies and the collections from famous personalities like Marlene Dietrich, the Duchess of Marlborough (nee Consuelo Vanderbilt), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Elizabeth Taylor are displayed together down one hall.

As a person who doesn't put too much stock in expensive jewelry (my tastes lean more toward the outrageous costume with a hint of goth or whimsy), I wasn't expecting too much from this visit, as other exhibits are not currently open (although the fashion of Sonia Delaunay is starting to be shown beginning this Friday, March 18th through June 5th) and the garden (which is supposed to be lush and restful) is currently closed to visitors due to renovation work.  However, I was pleasantly surprised at the detail, creativity, and ingenuity involved in fine jewelry design.  In particular, the transformation pieces were really amazing.  Necklaces could be lengthened with bracelet additions, simple necklaces could be embellished with coordinating brooches, and single brooches could be doubled in size and complexity by locking single pieces together.  The piece that spoke most to me is the peacock brooch/pendant (see above right) that can be transformed as follows:  the wings come off to form earrings, the tail comes off to form a brooch and the pendant can be detached and worn separately on a necklace--fantastic!

The other part of the museum that is definitely worth visiting is the gift shop.  It has the requisite museum shop books and t-shirts, but it is also filled with original pieces of pottery, jewelry, housewares, bags, and sculpture.  All the items for sale seem to be "curated" and include both modern and vintage styles; many of them would make extraordinary gifts.

1 comment:

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