Van Cleef & Ar­pels called on an avant-garde artist of the the­atre to show­case its L’arche de Noé col­lec­tion

To do jus­tice to its vi­brant L’arche de Noé col­lec­tion, Van Cleef & Ar­pels called on a renowned avant-garde artist far re­moved from the world of fine jew­ellery. Char­lene Co gets an ex­clu­sive tour of his dra­matic ex­hi­bi­tion, which opens in Hong Kong this m

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Un­du­lat­ing waves pro­jected floor to ceil­ing on the walls of the room cre­ate the sen­sa­tion of be­ing in the mid­dle of a mas­sive body of wa­ter. Sud­denly sounds over­come the vis­i­tor—an in­creas­ingly tur­bu­lent storm, an apoc­a­lyp­tic crash of thun­der, then a neardeaf­en­ing si­lence. Sus­pended above the space is a wooden flat-bot­tomed boat, and glow­ing from the “wa­ter” are dozens of small win­dows dis­play­ing exquisite pieces of jew­ellery.

This mul­ti­sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence was de­signed by Amer­i­can the­atre direc­tor and artist Robert Wil­son to show­case Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ lat­est high jew­ellery col­lec­tion, L’arche de Noé (Noah’s Ark). “The sud­den bois­ter­ous thun­der is, of course, in­ten­tional,” says Wil­son. “Be­cause the si­lence that fol­lows gives you clar­ity and fo­cus to look at the jew­ellery in a dif­fer­ent way.”

One of to­day’s fore­most the­atre and visual artists, Wil­son is de­scribed by the New York Times as “a tow­er­ing fig­ure in the world of ex­per­i­men­tal the­atre, and an ex­plorer in the

“MY GOAL IS AND AL­WAYS HAS BEEN TO ELICIT EMO­TION. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE VIS­I­TORS SIM­PLY LOOK­ING AT THESE BEAU­TI­FUL ROCKS. IN­STEAD, IT’S ABOUT HOW THEY CAN BE AF­FECTED BY BE­ING IN THE ROOM WITH ALL THESE JEWELS”

uses of time and space on stage.” Writ­ers and per­form­ers with whom he has col­lab­o­rated in­clude Heiner Müller, Tom Waits, Su­san Son­tag, Laurie An­der­son, Wil­liam Bur­roughs, Lou Reed and Jessye Nor­man. Though a leg­end in the the­atre and opera scenes, Wil­son has never worked with jew­ellery, which prob­a­bly goes some way to ex­plain­ing his abil­ity to con­ceive a spec­tac­u­lar way to present jew­ellery like no one be­fore.

The L’arche de Noé show is the first jew­ellery ex­hi­bi­tion Van Cleef & Ar­pels has opened to the public, a rare event in the world of high jew­ellery. It made its de­but in Paris in Septem­ber last year and is now about to open in Hong Kong, where it can be ex­pe­ri­enced at the Asia So­ci­ety Hong Kong Cen­tre in Ad­mi­ralty from March 10 to 26. Right from the col­lec­tion’s in­cep­tion, Van Cleef & Ar­pels pres­i­dent and CEO Ni­co­las Bos felt strongly it would be a “far-reach­ing” one ap­pre­ci­ated by a much wider au­di­ence than jew­ellery

“THE IDEN­TITY OF VAN CLEEF & AR­PELS IS AS MUCH BASED ON CRE­ATION AS IT IS ON TRANSMISSION, AND I BE­LIEVE THAT OPEN­ING UP THIS EX­HI­BI­TION TO THE PUBLIC RE­IN­FORCES THAT PHI­LOS­O­PHY”

con­nois­seurs. It is, af­ter all, in­spired by Noah’s Ark, a story with univer­sal res­o­nance, and in de­vel­op­ing the col­lec­tion, one par­tic­u­lar image caught the de­sign­ers’ at­ten­tion.

“The fa­mous scene of a big herd of var­i­ous an­i­mals be­ing led by Noah to the ark has been de­picted hun­dreds of times in the past, but we were drawn to one in par­tic­u­lar—a 1613 paint­ing by Flem­ish painter Jan Brueghel the Elder called The En­try of the An­i­mals into Noah’s Ark,” ex­plains Bos. “That was the spe­cific in­spi­ra­tion for this col­lec­tion, and what at­tracted us to it was the way it brings a great num­ber and va­ri­ety of an­i­mals to­gether in a sin­gle event.”

The col­lec­tion num­bers 60 clips—from para­keets, owls and koalas to kan­ga­roos, ele­phants and gi­raffes, and three myth­i­cal crea­tures: Pe­ga­sus, a phoenix and a uni­corn. They are all one-off pieces, and the ex­hi­bi­tion show­cases 41 of them.

The clips con­tinue a longheld theme in the mai­son’s uni­verse. “Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ cre­ations are about con­tin­u­a­tion and evolution,” Bos says. “We find a dif­fer­ent angle to a fa­mil­iar con­cept to fuel our pat­ri­mo­nial pieces. Through­out the mai­son’s his­tory, we’ve pre­sented an­i­mals in many ways— ex­trav­a­gant, ma­jes­tic, el­e­gant and funny. This time, we make them play­ful, child­like and in­no­cent. We also present them in cou­ples, which is dif­fer­ent from what we’ve done in the past.” For the ex­hi­bi­tion, Van Cleef & Ar­pels was keen to cre­ate an at­mos­phere that would be ap­pre­ci­ated by both fans of high jew­ellery and the gen­eral public, in­clud­ing chil­dren. “We were de­ter­mined to pro­vide

a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence even to those who are not nec­es­sar­ily fond of jew­ellery, or even those who haven’t stepped into our bou­tique,” says Bos. “And who bet­ter to cre­ate such a space than Robert Wil­son. To me, Robert is one of the great­est artists for set de­signs, widely known for his bril­liant use of light, which af­ter all is what jew­ellery is all about.”

Hav­ing had no ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with jew­ellery, Wil­son had some home­work to do be­fore start­ing the project. “I went to see a num­ber of jew­ellery show­rooms and, I prob­a­bly shouldn’t say this, but they are so bor­ing,” he says. “They all pretty much look the same. So just as I do with all my projects, I asked my­self: How can I touch the public with this jew­ellery ex­hi­bi­tion? How can I move the vis­i­tors? I wanted to cre­ate a space where I can dis­play some­thing static like jew­ellery and make it a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for those who visit. My goal is and al­ways has been to elicit emo­tion. It’s not about the vis­i­tors sim­ply look­ing at these beau­ti­ful rocks. In­stead, it’s about how they can be af­fected by be­ing in the room with all these jewels.”

Wil­son’s early sketches of the in­stal­la­tion show what per­haps most vis­i­tors would ex­pect: a mas­sive, solid ark. “But it just wasn’t right,” he says, “it was way too pre­dictable and would oc­cupy too much space.” As he re­calls his process, he takes out his sketch­pad, starts to draw and says, “I got think­ing of a tiny boat. And this lit­tle thing, you’d imag­ine, would be nes­tled in this big empty space. Not only will we achieve this il­lu­sion of space, we also give the jew­ellery breath­ing room.”

Wil­son’s in­stal­la­tion is bril­liant, but it doesn’t for one se­cond over­shadow the jewels it is de­signed to high­light.

An­i­mals have long in­spired Van Cleef & Ar­pels de­sign­ers. In 1954, for ex­am­ple, the La Bou­tique col­lec­tion was cre­ated to of­fer a line of colour­ful an­i­mal clips that would ap­peal to a younger clien­tele. More re­cently, an­i­mals made ap­pear­ances in 2010’s Jules Verne-in­spired Les Voy­ages Ex­traor­di­naires col­lec­tion, 2013’s Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream line and 2014’s Peau d’âne range. L’arche de Noé, how­ever, is the mai­son’s first col­lec­tion fea­tur­ing only an­i­mals.

Bos says the de­ci­sion to open the ex­hi­bi­tion to the public fits with the spirit of the mai­son’s L’école jew­ellery school, which pro­vides hands-on cour­ses for peo­ple in­ter­ested in be­com­ing “en­light­ened ama­teurs”, as well as cre­ative work­shops for chil­dren. “We are ex­tremely proud of what we do here, and we are very keen to share it with as big an au­di­ence as pos­si­ble,” says Bos. “The iden­tity of Van Cleef & Ar­pels is as much based on cre­ation as it is on transmission, and I be­lieve that open­ing up this ex­hi­bi­tion to the public re­in­forces that phi­los­o­phy.”

The French house has earned a rep­u­ta­tion for its spec­tac­u­lar events and ex­hi­bi­tions. It held a grand soiree at the Château de Cham­bord, a mag­nif­i­cent cas­tle just out­side Paris, to present its Peau d’âne col­lec­tion in 2014. A cruise from Monaco to Nice in­tro­duced the Seven Seas col­lec­tion in 2015. And last year in Hong Kong, the mai­son whisked guests by chop­per to its Poetic Com­pli­ca­tions ex­hi­bi­tion at The Penin­sula— by way of a breath­tak­ing aerial tour of the city. The treat­ment given L’arche de Noé this year is some­what sub­tler—but no less epic.

The Van Cleef & Ar­pels L’arche de Noé ex­hi­bi­tion will be open to the public from March 10–26. You can book your visit at vcaarchede­noe.hk

Boxed Sets Win­dows draw at­ten­tion to Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ exquisite clips at the Paris ex­hi­bi­tion in Septem­ber, which was de­signed by Robert Wil­son (be­low)

into the wild The En­try of the An­i­mals into Noah’s Ark, painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder in 1613. Op­po­site page: Artists work on sketches for the L’arche de Noé col­lec­tion

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