Masters of craft

French high jew­ellery meets tra­di­tional Ja­panese arts in Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion in Ky­oto. Char­lene Co takes a look

Hong Kong Tatler - - Style | Jewellery -

With its an­cient Bud­dhist tem­ples and Shinto shrines, sprawl­ing gar­dens, tea cer­e­monies and geishas, Ky­oto is a city that in­spires and de­lights. Ja­pan’s im­pe­rial cap­i­tal for more than 1,000 years, its vi­brant arts scene has grown from a long tra­di­tion of crafts­man­ship, mak­ing it the per­fect back­drop for Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion.

The her­itage show at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in Ky­oto (Mo­mak) was four years in the mak­ing. But that’s not un­usual— Mat­sub­ara Ryuichi, chief cu­ra­tor of Mo­mak, says such ex­hi­bi­tions are not taken on lightly. “There are com­plex­i­ties and very rigid rules to ob­serve when car­ry­ing out an ex­hi­bi­tion in na­tional mu­se­ums like the Mo­mak,” Ryuichi says. “For in­stance, it can­not be com­mer­cially driven, and the ex­hi­bi­tion has to be cu­rated en­tirely by us.

This was some­thing Ni­co­las Bos, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the French jew­ellery house, com­pletely un­der­stands. “I ap­pre­ci­ated that Mr Bos re­spected my work and gave me com­plete free­dom. Per­haps more im­por­tantly, he ex­pressed that Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ chief aim for this ex­hi­bi­tion is to pro­mote knowl­edge and nur­ture an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the arts—ob­jec­tives that are very much in line with ours. So, af­ter sev­eral vis­its to their work­shop in Paris, and see­ing last year’s ex­hi­bi­tion in Sin­ga­pore, I was thrilled to do this.”

“Mas­tery of an Art: Van Cleef & Ar­pels— High Jew­ellery and Ja­panese Crafts,” which runs un­til the first week of Au­gust, is the lat­est in an an­nual series of her­itage ex­hi­bi­tions from the French mai­son. Other ex­hi­bi­tions have been held at the Cooper He­witt, Smith­so­nian De­sign Mu­seum in New York, the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art in Shang­hai, the Bow­ers Mu­seum in Cal­i­for­nia, and last year at the Artscience Mu­seum in Sin­ga­pore.

Bos says there is in­cred­i­ble in­ter­est in the crafts­man­ship and tra­di­tion of jew­ellery, and the ex­hi­bi­tion aimed to nur­ture this. “Transmission is very valu­able to us and is some­thing we do whole­heart­edly. We started to do these ex­hi­bi­tions in part out of frus­tra­tion that, while there was a genuine in­ter­est in and fas­ci­na­tion for the in­tri­ca­cies, crafts­man­ship and her­itage of jew­ellery, there

weren’t—and sadly still aren’t—nearly enough op­por­tu­ni­ties to nur­ture this in­ter­est on a large, far-reach­ing scale,” Bos says. “We hope to change that through these ex­hi­bi­tions.”

The Ky­oto show is Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ sec­ond her­itage ex­hi­bi­tion in Ja­pan—the first was held at the Mori Arts Cen­tre Gallery in Tokyo in 2009. “Ja­pan, and in par­tic­u­lar the Kan­sai re­gion [where Ky­oto is lo­cated] has al­ways been of in­ter­est to us,” Bos says. “We’ve had quite a few projects with schools and uni­ver­si­ties here, and have met with quite a few lo­cal crafts­men. And Ky­oto re­ally is the cen­tre of crafts­man­ship in Ja­pan, hav­ing been the em­peror’s res­i­dence for over a thou­sand years, at­tract­ing the best ar­ti­sans to the city.”

The jew­ellery house was clear from the start about where it wanted to exhibit in Ky­oto: Mo­mak. “While most mu­se­ums do ei­ther fine arts or dec­o­ra­tive arts, the Mo­mak dares: it’s ver­sa­tile and pushes bound­aries— go­ing from dis­play­ing arte­facts from the Heian pe­riod, to cut­ting-edge Ja­panese pho­tog­ra­phy, to 19th-cen­tury ce­ram­ics, to French im­pres­sion­ists,” Bos says. “For us, the point of col­lab­o­rat­ing with mu­se­ums is to be able cre­ate some­thing dif­fer­ent for the vis­i­tors, and we felt that the Mo­mak would be able to de­liver that ex­pe­ri­ence while still re­spect­ing the arts.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures 260 high jew­ellery pieces from Van Cleef & Ar­pels—many of them bor­rowed from its ar­chives in Paris— which are dis­played along­side 60 works by Ja­panese ar­ti­sans. It’s im­pec­ca­bly ar­ranged in three themed ar­eas de­signed by in­no­va­tive Ja­panese ar­chi­tect Sou Fu­ji­moto. The first sec­tion of­fers a look at the his­tory of the French jew­ellery house, which dates back to 1906. Some of the mai­son’s most recog­nis­able pieces are on show, in­clud­ing the Zip neck­lace made for the Duchess of Wind­sor in 1951, a bird­cage com­mis­sioned by an In­dian prince in the 1930s, and a brooch fea­tur­ing its patented “mys­tery-set” tech­nique. In the sec­ond area, more than 100 high jew­ellery pieces are jux­ta­posed with about 50 Ja­panese works that in­clude hand-painted vases, ce­ramic pots, cast iron fig­urines and an ex­tra­or­di­nary juni-hi­toe, or 12-layer cer­e­mo­nial ki­mono.

The third part of the show cel­e­brates the rare skills of Ja­pan’s “liv­ing na­tional trea­sures.” Among the con­tem­po­rary artists fea­tured are Moriguchi Ku­ni­hiko, who is known for his yuzen dye­ing tech­nique to dec­o­rate ki­monos us­ing rice paste; Kitamura Takeshi for his ra and tate-nishiki weav­ing tech­niques; and Nak­a­gawa Kiy­ot­sugu for his beau­ti­ful wood­craft. Their works are also dis­played along­side Van Cleef & Ar­pels pieces.

This is an ex­hi­bi­tion that ex­plores the par­al­lels be­tween French and Ja­panese cul­ture, and cel­e­brates cen­turies-old crafts­man­ship. But the mu­seum’s Ryuichi has a word of ad­vice for vis­i­tors: don’t get too pre­oc­cu­pied search­ing for sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the French and Ja­panese works. “While tech­niques and themes are some­times sim­i­lar, what truly brings these pieces to­gether is the sense of his­tory, peer­less crafts­man­ship and pride for the craft—which also drives the point of the ex­hi­bi­tion’s name, ‘Mas­tery of an Art,’” he says.

Bos agrees, say­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion is more of a di­a­logue. “We’ve given Ryuichi free rein in the cu­ra­tion of this ex­hi­bi­tion, and the re­sult is an aes­thetic, very po­etic and quite emo­tional di­a­logue be­tween Ja­panese and French cul­tures, and jew­ellery- and craft­mak­ing. I feel that the ex­hi­bi­tion re­ally works as an ex­pe­ri­ence—you cre­ate your own jour­ney. There are no rules. If you come out of this ex­hi­bi­tion in­ter­ested, ex­tra cu­ri­ous and en­riched with­out nec­es­sar­ily feel­ing that you’ve gone through a lec­ture or some­thing com­pletely or­gan­ised, then I feel that Van Cleef & Ar­pels has ac­com­plished what it set out to do.”

Mas­tery of an Art: Van Cleef & Ar­pels—high Jew­ellery and Ja­panese Crafts runs un­til Au­gust 6 at The Na­tional Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in Ky­oto, Ja­pan

Jew­elled DEL­I­CACY A crafts­man works on a brooch from Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ L’arche de Noe col­lec­tion

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