Skip to content

Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection

Start Date 10 November 2017
End Date 28 March 2018
Venue Cooper Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Design Museum
Location New York, USA
Exhibition display of jewellery in cases

Spanning the worlds of design, craft, and art, the contemporary jewelry in this gift from the Susan Grant Lewin collection captures the diversity and achievements of over 100 jewelers from eighteen countries. For nearly four decades, Lewin has passionately supported this evolving field, cultivating personal relationships with established and emerging jewelers from across the globe.

The earliest works in the exhibition are by mid-20th-century American and European pioneers who pushed the boundaries of form and material and set the stage for future developments. These groundbreaking works are followed by highly innovative abstract compositions based on simple geometric shapes or mathematical engineering principles and others more organic in nature. A selection of painterly two-dimensional pieces serve as small canvases for the body. A major section presents content-driven jewelry that draw on themes of memory and metaphor, popular culture, the human body, and nature. Highly conceptual works comment on humankind’s desires and foibles that have long motivated our passion for jewelry.

The value of each piece lies in the unique idea of the jeweler as expressed through a mastery of materials, whether commonplace or costly, and innovative techniques that range from traditional metalsmithing to assemblage to computer-aided design. The inventive new forms prompt us to question jewelry’s history and social function, conventional standards of beauty, and relationship of scale to the human body. Extravagant metals and gemstones frequently take on a subordinate role in the designs—thus subverting the traditional notion of preciousness in jewelry.

Installation view of “Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection at The Cooper Hewitt” at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Image courtesy of Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Institution.