The Epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the oldest written story on earth written between 2750 and 2500 BCE details the mother of Gilgamesh, hero and historical King of Uruk saying
Queen Ninsun went into her living quarters.
She washed herself with the purity plant,
she donned a robe worthy of her body,
she donned jewels worthy of her chest,
she donned her sash, and put on her crown.
The evolution of society as reflected in its jewellery (jewelry) is closely linked to our ‘identity’. The stunning ‘Cullinan 2 necklace the curator reports, is asking us to ‘recognise the value of jewellery beyond material value’.
It is set with ‘two diamonds, which are copies out of crystal of the world’s most famous cut diamonds.
The jewellery from antiquity to the contemporary age is arranged thematically and to say the pieces are all eye catching, thought provoking, quite interesting and in many cases dazzling doesn’t really begin to give you a hint how wonderful this display really is.
This is a show sure to improve the more you visit it over the year ahead and is one to be experienced in person, because photographs online or in books never really replace just how wonderful an object is to look at personally.
The show has been beautifully curated by the very talented Eva Czernis-Ryl, assisted by author and antique jewellery dealer and collector Anne Schofield, plus a very ‘driven’ team of people.
This show is an experience deserving of the glowing accolades, which were delivered in fine style by Paul Keating at the official opening.
The exhibition is all about identity and the evolution of our culture and its fashionable concerns, political, philosophical and personal; always a fascinating subject.
Thankfully it is also importantly about ‘a shared vision of fostering artistic excellence, facilitating community engagement and commercial opportunities’.
These are all clearly identified key factors in maintaining a creative Australia.
This is central to modernizing funding so that museums such as the Powerhouse at Sydney can obtain and maintain both key philanthropy and support.
‘Culture is not created by government, but enabled by it. Culture is created by community’.*
There is no doubt after seeing this exhibition you will also look at the stories attached to the wearing of jewellery in a brand new light. One can only imagine how marvelous it was to wear some of the pieces in the collection on show in days of yore.
The stunning pieces produced by some of our age’s outstanding contemporary designers are either simple or completely over the top elaborate statements of style such as the thoroughly modern man!
They are sitting happily alongside simply amazingly carved intaglios and cameos that have survived from ancient times.
The ravishing pieces from the European medieval period, the age of enlightenment and the age of revolutionaries and romantics, as well as those representing the streamlined chic world of ‘Art Deco’, have wonderful stories to tell as do those fashioned for wearing in Victorian times when mourning the relatives they loved.
There are also amazing pieces from many other cultures, including a number with exotic overtones. They are also made from an interesting array of materials, including striking blue Kingfisher feathers.
They say historically that if we wait long enough we will always return to our roots and so it appears Sydney has.
The Powerhouse Museum, a stunning building with the ability to house very large technology such as trains, cars and buses, has over the years amassed wonderful collections in the worlds of art, design and science.
Costume and jewellery are also integral to its story.
Over the last decade it seems the museum has perhaps struggled with an identity crisis of its own and this exhibition would seem a perfect fit to help this deserving institution re-boot.
The new Director at the helm of the ‘Powerhouse is a very determined confident Rose Hiscock.
Together with the board and her eager team she has a new document in place anyone can download about the Museum Applied Arts & Sciences 2020 Vision.
Ms Hiscock is taking the museum back to its roots by calling it first and foremost the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.
This was the name it used to bear when I was a little girl and used to go there guided by my gran. It is perhaps also easier for an interested public to discern and understand.
At the opening Paul Keating waxed lyrically about how this was the best presentation of jewellery he has yet seen in his lifetime.
As an active and avid collector of antiques for decades, he has probably seen a few in his time and would know.
He also had fond memories of going there as a child, where many of the displays were highly interactive despite it being ‘pre technology’ days.
At the opening of the show the director Rose Hiscock related how in the past few months just by putting their collection of technology on display along with their collection of 25 restored and original historic cars, and now this stunning collection of jewellery, they have increased visitation by 20%, certainly a great way to start.
Paul Keating kept everyone very amused when launching the show with his erudite dissertation.
He was predictably controversial, as we who were around during his colourful political career would expect him to be.
On viewing the show and based on my own experiences I would say that this exhibition is definitely worthy of a discussion with top executives in many international museums.
Undoubtedly it is one that would, could and perhaps even should travel internationally, if its private donors were willing.
This is a negotiation that could be brokered by some of the so-called ‘wisdom keepers’ of the creative world.
Empowered by the Museum to negotiate on their behalf, older experienced art supporters can be attractive to CEO’s looking for new avenues to pursue in terms of promoting their own identity.
If there is one thing I have learned over my nearly seven decades, is that creative people never really stop imagining and with experience, can become enablers that will be listened to.
Just putting this extraordinary array of jewellery on show together in a context easy to approach would enough of an achievement for many museums and the curator.
However when it is done as splendidly this one has on what appears to be a shoestring budget, driven by the commitment and passion of protagonists involved, it is to be applauded and supported by community and caring members and certainly those with the ready necessary.
Disappointingly there wasn’t a catalogue available for the opening, which we can only hope is corrected over the next few months.
Rarely is such a fabulous collection put together as one and it will be on display for a year and so there is yet time.
It is certainly deserving of one, so that it can be logged into the archives of national and international collections and libraries of univesities etc for students and writers researching the subject. Hard to believe someone in the jewellery or identity industry wouldn’t step forward and bear the cost of sponsorship?
In order to gain momentum and increase their reach all Museums today must produce shows of real excellence, which this one is especially in terms of content and display and document the process.
My only issue with the show is the text on the curatorial cards was too small for ease of reading for all the stalwarts age 50+ whose eyesight sure isn’t what it used to be.
There is no doubt the powers that be will be encouraging a young audience, school children, high school and university students, especially as it is in the University of Technology precinct where the history of design is taught,
For those in attendance there is a huge bonus on leaving the exhibition, visitors can encounter the fabulous collection of costumes from Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom, and there is no doubt the sensational array of cars will stir memories.
It will ensure you end on a nostalgic note by imagining yourself wearing one of Scott, Fran or Tina Sparkle’s costumes, set off with some stunning jewels, while tripping the light fantastic going out and about in a vintage Rolls!
Artists, creative practitioners and professionals are at the heart of who we are and we need to tap into their successes.
We need Australia’s creative arts practice recognized nationally and internationally as being of really excellent in its field, and here’s a collection that would also travel.
Even though there is 700 items on display, they are what is called in the industry smalls, which are far more easily packed and transported than many other shows.
We need Australians willing to invest in showcasing the best aspects of who we are to the world in order to help preserve our way of life.
We need to foster a culture of giving, to encourage philanthropy and investment in bringing the arts, manufactures and commerce into alignment.
This outstanding jewellery show at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, on display at the Powerhouse reveals whom we are, where we have been and where we are going. It brilliantly documents our fashionable evolution from the ancient past to the present.
Because we now live in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, it’s a statement not only of creative style, but also of how with ‘integrity, courage and passion’ if we are prepared to continually re-examine ourselves then we can continue to build solid relationships that assist emerging innovators to imagine the future.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
24 September 2014 – 20 September 2015
Times: 10.00am to 5.00pm
Address: Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo
Admission: Free with General Admission Costs
Jewellery can express our desires, fears and hopes. With over 700 pieces spanning time, place and culture, A fine possession tells the stories of jewellery designed, made and worn in Australia and across the globe.
Among the precious pieces worn by high- profile Australians that will feature in the exhibition are a star-studded ring from fashion designer Catherine Martin, a sparkling neckpiece worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, and a stunning diamond brooch worn by Cate Blanchett to the Oscars.
This striking exhibition reveals the intimate details behind these dazzling objects and many more, asking us why the appeal of jewellery remains timeless and universal.