The metalsmiths who came to town in May for the Society of North American Goldsmiths conference have left a slew of exhibitions in their wake. For the uninitiated: Metalsmiths tend to be, but aren’t always, jewelry makers. They also sculpt, and they do not work exclusively in metal.
Jewelry makers, like many craftspeople, often feel shunted aside by the art world. In a scene that puts increasing value on concept, art that starts out as functional has more work to do: It must be useful, smart, and, in an ideal world, transcendent.
Ruudt Peters, a maverick Dutch artist, pulls off all three. His small retrospective at Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s President’s Gallery offers only a morsel of what he has accomplished.
The artist started out in the 1970s, when the predominant aesthetic was purely formal. Sleek, broad, black and silvery bracelets made in 1973 reflect his context, and have little to do with his ultimate vision. Peters gave up jewelry for years to sculpt. When he returned to adornment in the 1980s, he had developed a playful attention to space. His exhibitions are like art installations: They command participation.
For “Ground: A Retrospective Exhibition of Ruudt Peters,” he has installed jewelry in clear cases on the floor. You have to squat, sit, or kneel to see it. He sets bracelets, necklaces, and brooches atop quicksilver drawings he made with his eyes closed. Porcelain figures — male nudes, some adorned with silver, iron, or glass — stand beside the cases. Naked, with hands open, they’re not sentries. They are guides into another world.
Peters has a strong mystical bent. He designed the figures, from the recent “Qi, Cun Zai” series, after spending months in China studying Chinese approaches to inner balance and healing.
For decades, Eastern and Western religious traditions have infused his work. Long chains nearly engulf the dusky silver pendants in the “Passio” series — their format recalls thuribles, swinging censers used in Roman Catholic churches. The pendants themselves — here an egg and a vessel — are both austere and profound.
The “Sefiroth” brooches refer to the Hebrew Tree of Life; each has a grid dotted with spheres, which represent God. In two pieces, glass bulbs and bells spring from the grids like spring blossoms. Other projects contemplate Christ’s body and riff on lingams, the phallic representations of the Hindu god Shiva.
These and other works are daring and commanding. Peters restlessly challenges himself with technique and material (the candy apple “Iosis” series is made with silk, polyester, and insulation foam). As important in contemporary art, he digs deeper into his own soul, and follows the irrational paths his imagination sets him on.
The body as seen through . . .
“Intersomatic: Contemporary Metalsmithing,” at Lesley University’s VanDernoot Gallery, spotlights artists who unpack ideas and expectations about the body — a juicy subject for jewelry makers, who often simply work to beautify.
Holland Houdek crafts replicas of surgical implants into adornments. Her Gothic, outrageous “Submammary Pectoral Plate, Breast Implant” features a silicone implant looking liquid inside a copper case studded with hundreds of dark crystals. The piece winningly equates the implant with protection, but also with over-the-top decoration. Similarly, Lauren Kalman uses gems and pearls to mimic skin disease in photographs that are at once alluring and repellent.
Peruvian artisan Fausto Auccapuma may seem like an odd addition to this group. He fashions bronze crowns for church effigies. Yet his work, with its odd sizes and carefully mottled patinas and tiny jewels, fits. Like Kalman and Houdek, and indeed Peters, Auccapuma doesn’t make pretty pieces to festoon a nice outfit. He threads meaning into every hammer strike.
For “The Homework Project,” local jewelry maker Donna Veverka invited a wide range of metalsmiths to make one piece a month over the span of an academic year, and to take inspiration and material from the immediate surroundings of their home studios. The results, at Laconia Gallery, are witty, sharp, and sweetly personal.
Veverka’s own, homey “Junk Drawer Pencil Brooch” puts stubby pencils into a neat grid. Wear it with Peter Evonuk’s “HD Warrior Necklace,” a spiky, masculine piece made with Home Depot carpenter pencils joined with tiny copper beads. Or don’t — the materials are similar, but the aesthetic is sharply different.
A better match, if you favor felines: Patricia Madeja’s “Whisker Ring,” in which cat whiskers plume amid black diamond beads, and Melissa Finelli’s bulbous “Fur Ball Brooch” made from silver, white cat fur, and a binding medium.
As a reminder that not all metalwork is jewelry, Veverka has mounted a solo show by Daniel Jocz, who is best known for his jewelry but here spray paints and tears away at aluminum panels.
Jocz titles his show “Just Like Garage Band,” and he literally shreds some of these paintings, which are loud, disrespectful, and fun. “Annunciation Again” looks hit by lightning — black and torn at the top, with the center peeling away in great licks, flushing with red paint, and showing its dark, corrugated undersides. There’s none of jewelry’s refinement in these works — just a good time.