A fine possession: jewellery and identity

Brooch, eye portrait, glass / gold / diamonds / hair, maker unknown, England, c. 1800 1810. Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Marinco Kodjanovski.

Brace yourself for a feast of epic proportions. This is a rare opportunity to set your eyes on some the ‘precious’ eye candy from the Museum of Applied Arts and Science’s collection and beyond. Never before has the Powerhouse Museum staged an exhibition of this scale bringing together such a diverse collection of jewellery.

In the dim ‘mood lighting’ of the foyer of A fine possession: jewellery and identity you’re introduced to a small medley of jewellery while a sensuous and elegant video installation designed by Alphabet Studios, lures you toward the exhibition entrance like the song of the Lorelei. Lured like a mariner, rather than being smashed against the rocks, you will wade in a sumptuous display of over 700 pieces that will leave you smiling.

Amulet, Wedjat Eye, faience, Egypt, BCE 817 725,

Amulet, Wedjat Eye, faience, Egypt, BCE 817 725,
Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Marinco Kodjanovski.

Spanning millennia, continents and cultures A fine possession reveals the story of jewellery design and cultural conventions from across the globe – from ancient to present time. These include pieces borrowed from the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) and the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), community galleries, private collectors such as Anne Schofields Antiques, jewellers, critics and academics.

The exhibition also aims to celebrate some of the diversity of Asian, African and Oceanic adornment as well as the innovation and creativity of contemporary studio jewellers.

Highlights range from the ancient Egyptian pieces and heart scarabs, Victorian Mourning jewellery, Napoleon Bonaparte ring, the Lady Granville parure made of exotic iridescent beetles and the ‘Tiara’ made of aluminium sardine tins by Fiona Hall for the Venice Biennale 2015.

Tiara (1990) by Fiona Hall, who was recently selected to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2015. Hall made the tiara from aluminium sardine tins.

Tiara (1990) by Fiona Hall, who was recently selected to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2015. Hall made the tiara from aluminium sardine tins.

Each piece has a trace and element of its maker, its era and of the wearer – a reflection of personal and social history as well as of historical and cultural context. The atmosphere created by such a collection of objects is awe inspiring and it will have you reflecting on the nature of humanity and its manifestations. Whether the piece is from the remote islands of the Pacific, the Middle East, Europe, Asia or contemporary Australia, all show a connectedness through traditions, cultural conventions and a material culture of adornment that transcends geographical location.

Ornament, silver / kingfisher feathers, China Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Marinco Kodjanovski.

Ornament, silver / kingfisher feathers, China Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Marinco Kodjanovski.

On display are also celebrity imbued amulets; a star-studded ring from fashion and costume designer Catherine Martin, the neckpiece worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and a diamond brooch worn by Cate Blanchett to the Oscars. If these are not inspiring enough, there’s more to suit every taste. Of these perhaps the Napoleon Bonaparte ring carved in onyx by Italy’s Antonio Santorelli around 1800 is one of the most surprising in the exhibition but there are many others to add to this list.

Catherine Martin Ring: rose cut diamonds, blue enamel, silver, gold, England, c1770-80. Let by Catherine Martin. Photo: Powerhouse Museum

Catherine Martin Ring: rose cut diamonds, blue enamel, silver, gold, England, c1770-80. Let by Catherine Martin. Photo: Powerhouse Museum

Such is the diversity and scope of the exhibition. Of course it is difficult to predict if this will satisfy everyone’s taste but it will come close. It may be possible to find fault and weakness in an exhibition that is as extensive as this one, but as a representation of the practice of jewellery design over history, the diversity of materials, cultures and traditions, it represents one of the most comprehensive in Australia. It also represents the diverse collecting practice of this long serving institution. This is an awe inspiring world class exhibition and as far as collections go, it represents one that rates internationally, if not in quantity, certainly in quality.

Hairpins (3), 'Comb for Otohime', PET bottles / silver, designed and made by Rui Kikuchi, Osaka, Japan, 2010. Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Marinco Kodjanovski.

Hairpins (3), ‘Comb for Otohime’, PET bottles / silver, designed and made by Rui Kikuchi, Osaka, Japan, 2010. Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Photo: Marinco Kodjanovski.

Broken up in themes; Belief & Magic; Love & Death; Nature & Culture; Style & Revival; Gold & Identity; Status & wealth; Men & Adornment; Modernity & change; Evolution & Revolution. The exhibition will have something to fascinate every exhibition goer.

The exhibition is currently open to the public and will be on display until 20 September 2015.