These wearable works of art are at once different but recognizable as the designs of their creators, and are among nearly 200 one-of-a-kind and limited edition jewelry pieces in a new exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design.
"Picasso to Koons: Artist as Jeweler" features bold, whimsical and even wacky creations, all conceived to be worn, by some of the most noted artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Culled from private collections, the show features jewelry by 135 artists, including masters Georges Braque, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, modern artists Arman, Cesar, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson and contemporary artists John Chamberlain and Anish Kapoor.
The show will surprise many visitors because "people don't know that these artists did jewelry," said Diane Venet, the exhibition's guest curator. "It's a very intimate part of their work and their life."
Visitors also will have fun recognizing the artist in the pieces, she added.
The Stella necklace belongs to Venet. It was a gift from the artist, made in 2008 after repeated requests by her husband, French sculptor Bernar Venet, whose unique jewelry also is featured in the exhibition.
"We were at dinner and my husband said `you know (John) Chamberlain did a piece for Diane ... It's a pity you don't do anything," she recounted.
At that, Stella got up from the table, went to a drawer, pulled out a bag and gave it to Diane Venet. Inside was the necklace.
"It's a huge pendant that looks like a bowtie," she said. It's a large piece measuring 11 inches in length and 1 5/16 inch in diameter of gold-painted titanium, delicately bent into a bow and a central gold medal knot. He designed it in the same way that he creates his sculptures, using a computer.
Two years later, Stella made a ring, in an edition of five. After that, he never did any more because "jewelry is not his thing," Venet said.
With the exception of Kapoor, Arman and Calder, who produced 1,800 pieces of jewelry in his lifetime, few of the exhibited artists are known for their jewelry. Many of the pieces were created in small editions of 10-50 with a special person in mind, as a commission or as a challenge.
"These miniature works of art . also give many artists the opportunity to test their practical ability and to confront unprecedented constraints," Venet writes in a fully-illustrated book that accompanies the exhibition.
She said her passion for artist-designed jewelry began 25 years ago when her artist husband wrapped a slender piece of silver around her finger, a wedding ring he crafted. Her collection has grown to include other pieces from him and many of the other artists in the exhibition.
She describes the works as a miniature museum that can be worn on the wrist, the neck or the finger.
"I don't wear jewelry," she said, "I wear a work of art."
The show is "a wonderful way to look at artists who are primarily painters and sculptors and are also making jewelry," said Holly Hotchner, director of MAD, one of the only U.S. museums with a designated contemporary jewelry gallery.
For instance, a painted and crumpled piece of aluminum conceived as a brooch by John Chamberlain is a wonderful miniature sculpture. "He didn't just miniaturize what he does in larger scale, he actually made something that has its own power as a brooch," the director said.
One of her favorite pieces in the show are a pair of George Rickey earrings that have their own stand so "when they're on the stand they're actually an amazing piece of kinetic sculpture in their own right."
The earrings, each long double pieces of stainless steel, are perfectly balanced and move "like a miniature mobile," Hotchner said.
They are like Rickey's huge site-specific sculptures that defy gravity and move in the wind, "except that he engineered the earrings for a head and an ear," she said.
The exhibition highlights the surprising range of very well-known artists who were intrigued with creating something for the body.
"All these artists move freely across a lot of media. I don't think people normally realize that," Hotchner said. They may know that about Picasso and Calder, "but otherwise people think of an artist as a painter, potter, sculptor."
For Cesar, his jewelry is closely derived from "compressions" of automobiles and use of discarded metal and rubbish. His "microsculpture" pieces are compressed from unwanted jewelry. For Venet, he created a rectangular box pendant from her old gold chain bracelets and childhood medals.
"It's my jewelry but it's in a different presentation," Venet said.
Among some of the crazier wearable objects in the exhibition are a one-of-a-kind circuit board necklace by Nam June Paik and a necklace of real cigarettes and matches titled "New York Survival" by Donald Sultan.
The exhibition runs through Jan. 8, 2012.