As soon as Damien Hirst won The 1995 Turner Prize with his exhibition Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away, featuring various pickled animals - pastels and watercolours were to become as archaic as a feather pen.
Art was etching a new path for itself, one which would have the media foaming like sheep with rabies. And Botticelli no doubt turning in his tomb.
But now there is another form of art which is on the brink of a revolution courtesy of Jo Bloxham and the Bite the Bullet exhibition held at Harvey Nichols, Manchester from 21 June to 31 August.
The exhibition features various pieces of unique and controversial jewellery from across Europe, including works by Xavier Ines Monclus from Spain, Bettina Speckner from Germany, Karl Fritsch from Germany, Giovanni Corvaja from Italy, Ruth Tomlinson from the UK and Ted Noten from The Netherlands.
Jo, who is the wife of innovative property developer Tom Bloxham, has been a collector of jewellery for several years and is herself trained as a jeweller. In recent times, Jo has become increasingly frustrated by the fact that she has to travel abroad to see the work which interests her. In other words jewellery which is created as a form of artistic expression.
She says: “There’s some really exciting work in Europe. While it also exists in the UK, it’s not given enough exposure. It’s really safe and very frustrating.
“We need to break down this tradition that jewellery as art has died. It’s a different form of expression, using jewellery as the medium. They’re not making jewellery to sell and wear, it’s to get an idea across. Jewellery needs to be seen as an art form so we’re trying to make a big noise about it.”
The pieces are exquisite, ranging from Bettina Speckner’s photographic images etched in metal to Karl Fritsch’s bulbous chunky rings made from blackened gold or silver which questions our perception of what is precious or valuable.
But it’s Ted Noten’s Lady- K, a gold gun set within an acrylic bag that has already sparked debate, not about whether there is enough room for a lipstick and compact but whether the bag is glamorising weapons in a city with a reputation for gun culture. Sometimes there’s just no escaping that art reflects life and vice versa.
All the pieces in the exhibition are for sale but although some of them are accessible to mere mortals, the rest are for the picking of Sunday Times’ Britain’s rich list. Hence the reason they are exhibited at Harvey Nichols and not Primark.
As Jo says: “We thought Bite the Bullet would suit Harvey Nichol’s clientele. People who come here are style conscious and can afford pieces like this. It fits in with the concept of Harvey Nichols.”
But regardless of whether you don’t quite fit the description of Harvey Nichol’s target audience, it’s worth having a gander at these truly fascinating pieces. And if the exhibition does nothing for you apart from riling you to call a gun amnesty, then it’s still a case of mission accomplished.
Bite the Bullet is part of the Ars Ornata Europeana, the contemporary jewellery conference which will be holding exhibitions and events at various locations across the city. For more information on venues go to www.arsornata.org
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