From Picasso to Koons, See Rare Jewelry as Art at the Bass Museum

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We've heard of clothing as art, shoes as art, and hair as art. So it's not a far stretch to expect jewelry to be art, too. Thanks to Diane Venet, this is now a reality that we can all gawk at at the Bass Museum of Art.

The curator got her start collecting when she first met her husband, sculptor Bernar Venet, in 1985. "He gave me a barre of silver that he twisted around my two fingers as an engagement ring," she notes. "This ring remains among my very favorites!"

The following Christmas and birthday, he gave her some pieces made by some of his close friends that were also artists. "The subject interested me so much that I started to learn and research about which artists had been challenged in the past, and who would be interested in doing a piece now," she continues. "I met other collectors, dealers, gallerists, and as the seed was planted in the soil, I went on [collecting] alone."

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Venet has been collecting for almost 28 years, and owns more than 140 pieces of jewelry made by artists, both world-renowned in their field and up-and-coming. She follows auction sales all around the world, visits galleries, meets collectors. But you won't just see sculptors in her collection. She has pieces by such well known artists as Picasso, Man Ray, and Fontana. And you can see a huge chunk of it at her exhibit, "From Picasso to Koons, the Artist as Jeweler."

We caught up with Venet to discuss commissioning pieces, her process during the hunt, and some of her favorites.

Cultist: How do you come across these pieces of jewelry, considering few know these artists actually made them? Are they all commissioned?
Diane Venet: I have many friends in the field now who know me and about my collection and who sometimes offer me a piece for sale. As prices seem to have gone up now and thanks also to the different shows I have curated in great museums in New York (the MAD), Athens (the BENAKI Museum), in Valencia (the IVAM Museum), and also to some kind of major interest for the subject due to you, the journalists! it is difficult for me to go on buying the old masters. Calder makes tremendous prices at auction and Picassos, Man Rays or Fontanas are rare, so now and more and more my pleasure goes to commission artists of our generation and younger, too.

What is the process to commission an artist to make a piece of jewelry for you? Do you suggest the materials? Do you give any idea to what you're looking for? Or is it all up to the artist?
First I think of artists I know or whose work I respect a lot as painters or sculptors. Then, upon meeting them, I try to convince them to think about a wearable piece. It is always a challenge and of course I let them do what they want. Rarely do I suggest a material or a size. Then I propose to produce always a small edition, if not a unique piece. For the productions I now work with my daughter Esher de Beaucé. She recently opened a gallery specialized in jewelry by artists in Paris (galerie MiniMASTERPIECE, at 16 rue des Saints Peres). We have just produced a small edition with Lee UFAN, famous Korean sculptor and a new piece (a brooch) by [my husband] Bernar Venet. We also acquired a very beautiful pendant by Francois Morellet, among others.

How limited are these pieces in production, usually?
I believe in unique pieces or small editions (8 + 4 AP). I believe in rarity! In the collection, jewels are from larger editions which many times have never been produced to the end. Francois Hugo, for Picasso, produced editions of 20. But what is that compared to the paper editions? [Those were] hundreds of prints.

The Koons was produced by Stella McCartney (a good friend of the artist) and in 50ex. It was so hard for me to get one! So many of his numerous collectors wanted one!

What is, in your opinion, the best piece you've collected thus far?
I favor the pieces done for me! Frank Stella gave me a beautiful necklace (in the show). Chamberlain; as I said before, Takis; A gold brooch of Fontana done by himself as a necklace, a loan of Germana Matta, which is a gold thread knitted around mother pearls that he definitely knitted around her neck. I have many examples.

How did you decide what artists' pieces to pull together for this exhibit?
Almost my whole collection is in the show. I have been lucky to be able to loan jewels from my friends, gallerists, or collectors too. Didier Antiques from London, Louisa Guinness, Elisabetta Cipriani from London, Marina Ruggieri from Verona, and many collectors from all over.

From Picasso to Koonz: The Artist as Jeweler, through July 21, at the Bass Museum of Art. 2100 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach. bassmuseum.org.

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