From October 20, 2016, to March 15, 2017, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) presents Lauren Kalman: But if the Crime Is Beautiful.… Taking up the subject of gold, specifically its use in jewelry and adornment, the installation by metalsmith and performance artist Lauren Kalman is the second POV exhibition in MAD's Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery.
The title refers to Austrian architect Adolf Loos' 1908 treatise "Ornament and Crime," an essay that has been called one of the most radical polemics of design criticism in the twentieth century. In it, Loos declares decoration regressive, degenerate, primitive, and criminal—characteristics he associates with women and minorities, and makes synonymous with moral decay. He advocates instead for a new aesthetic based on rational and unornamented design, which became known as Western-European modernism.
In Kalman's installation, she protests Loos' spare aesthetic and commits a "crime" by covering the inside and outside of MAD's upright white jewelry cases in thousands of golden brass leaves. They weave in and around modernist and contemporary jewelry pieces from MAD's collection, upending the minimalist austerity of the gallery.
To create the installation, Kalman surveyed MAD's jewelry collection and chose over 60 gold pieces from the midcentury forward. Gold as a decorative metal is rich in symbolism, representative of luxury, power, wealth, and sentiment. It is the material of choice in mythology and fairy tales to signify transformation and magic. While modernist art jewelers rejected it for these reasons, contemporary artists have been playing with these meanings ever since.
To represent the modernist studio jeweler's rejection of gold, Kalman highlights pieces by Ronald Hayes Pearson and Margaret De Patta. The installation includes gold masterpieces by John Paul Miller, Margret Craver, and Irena Brynner, as well as subversive works by Otto Künzli, J. Fred Woell, and Gijs Bakker. Works by Eunmi Chun and Judy Kensley McKie explore medieval alchemy, the practice of turning ordinary substances into gold, while pieces by Lola Brooks and Frank Tjepkema celebrate tropes of love and eternity.
"Lauren Kalman's intervention is a sculptural and tactile critique of modernism," said MAD's Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford, "deftly considering both sexuality and class through the lens of design history."
"MAD's jewelry collection holds amazing pieces by artists who are both contemporaries I admire and historical innovators who have influenced the field," Kalman said. "It has been a thrill to be able to respond to these objects with this POV installation."
Kalman employs her golden leaves as representative of the leaves of kudzu, an invasive vine species that engulfs, spreads, and creates new decorative forms wherever it thrives. As guest curator and installation designer, the artist recontextualizes the jewelry gallery at MAD in an act that is, similarly to the invasive kudzu, both beautiful and suffocating. Kalman further challenges Loos' equation of decoration and femininity in her image and video work made for the exhibition. Through the purity of gold, contrasted with the blunt physicality of her own body, she claims the feminine as a position of power rather than shame.
MAD's POV series invites guests' perspectives on the Museum's permanent collection through the lens of their own practices. Lauren Kalman: But if the Crime Is Beautiful... is organized by Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford.
Lauren Kalman: But if the Crime Is Beautiful... is part of MAD Transformations, a series of six exhibitions presented this fall that address artists who have transformed and continue to transform our perceptions of traditional craft mediums. Building upon the exhibition Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years, which celebrates the work of an artist known for drastically changing the way clay is categorized as an art material and discipline, the MAD Transformations exhibitions consider fiber, clay, and jewelry and metals—disciplines (along with glass and wood) that compose the bedrock of the Museum of Arts and Design's founding mission and collection, and that continue to morph in the hands of contemporary artists today.