These creations are unique because they reflect the style of each artist. The miniature works of art fascinate Diane Venet, wife of artist Bernar Venet; her collection is presented this summer at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco.
You’ve been adding to your collection for 35 years, a labour of love and research. How did the intimate relationship begin between you and the jewellery you wear?
“Well, I remember wearing a piece by César quite often when I was a teenager. Then, when I met Bernar, he gave me a silver ring one Christmas that he wrapped around my finger. I always display the piece at the start of the exhibition, alongside one of his sculptures (the exhibition has been presented in nine other countries, with Monaco the tenth). In the same way, Arman made jewellery for Corice, César for Stéphanie, Calder for his little sister, Dali for Gala – and there are many more examples! Love inspired these creations, which are either unique pieces or limited editions, depending on the artist. In any case, the jewellery bears witness to each artist’s individual style, and it’s exciting to see them reflected on a different scale in the jewellery.”
Which artists did you ask to create pieces?
“There have been many, and I’ve always done it when we’ve met up as friends. With Orlan, for example, we chose one of his self portraits and decided to reinterpret it as a brooch in an edition of eight. There were also Pablo Reinoso, Frank Stella, Villeglé and Andres
Serrano, who called me one day to say that he wanted to make a piece of jewellery, along with many others who know that I often like unique pieces. In the late 1980s in the United States, I met Joan Sonnabend who collected artists’ jewellery. She sold me some pieces by Picasso, Ernst, Man Ray and Fontana – big names, in short – and from then on, the seed was planted.”
Tell us about the materials from which these highly original pieces of jewellery are made.
“The very first piece of artist’s jewellery I bought, when I was still a student in New York, was an enamel piece by Roy Lichtenstein. It wasn’t a limited edition and at the time I barely paid three dollars for it! Conversely, one of the latest entries to the collection is by Larry Bell, who exhibited work at the Venet Foundation, and who designed a piece using his favourite material, glass. It’s important to note that artists’ jewellery doesn’t often contain precious stones, and that there isn’t a hierarchy of materials. It can be made from anything, from painted rope by Claude Viallat, to snakeskin by Sheila Concari, to cement in the case of Claude de Soria, from a bag found in the courtyard of her studio on Boulevard Raspail, and even fake diamonds by Santiago Sierra, who takes a critical look at our society.”
These creations occupy a special place in the history of the art of jewellery. What is the connection here between artists and fine jewellery?
“These pieces are mostly fashioned by the artists themselves, but some may have been made by a jeweller – usually one who is close to the artist, as was the case with GianCarlo Montebello, a friend of Niki de Saint-Phalle, who produced all her pieces except for the snake created in 1977 by Diane Küppers. This great jeweller, to whom I have dedicated the Monaco exhibition, produced all the jewellery by Man Ray, Fontana, the Pomodoro brothers, Meret Oppenheim, Soto and many others. François Hugo, a goldsmith and the grandson of Victor Hugo, created jewellery for Picasso in his studio, and for Dorothéa Tanning, the wife of Max Ernst, in small editions.
I have a nice anecdote about Gino Severini’s cubist-futurist bracelet, which I bought as a unique piece. A friend later told me that he hadn’t wanted to buy it because he thought it was a fake. Years later, a photo surfaced of a portrait of the artist’s wife, made by the artist himself, in which she is wearing the piece. These are all works of art and I wear them all the time, depending on where I am and how I’m feeling.”
By Tanja Stojanov