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Flora, fauna, and the female figure

Art Nouveau Jewelry at the MFA, ‘Players’ on MIT’s Media Test Wall, and ‘Nascent’ at NESAD
By RANDI HOPKINS  |  July 15, 2008
Emmanuel-Jules-Joseph [Joë] Descomps, Necklace with a female head and a sphinx (circa 1900)

“Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry” at Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave, Boston | July 23–November 9 | 617.267.9300

“Players” at MIT List Visual Arts Center’s Media Test Wall, Whitaker Building, 21 Ames St, Cambridge | July 21–September 5 | 617.253.4400

“Nascent” at New England School of Art & Design, 75 Arlington St, Boston | July 25–August 23 | 617.573.8785
Colorful and sensual, inspired by nature’s curves and the flat visual plane of Japanese woodblock prints, the Art Nouveau movement of the late-19th/early-20th century distanced itself from Victorian and Edwardian traditionalism and the mass production of the Industrial Revolution with elaborate, one-of-a-kind works made from unusual materials. Opening at the Museum of Fine Arts on July 23, “IMPERISHABLE BEAUTY: ART NOUVEAU JEWELRY” traces the history of the style as it influenced jewelry making, with more than 100 tiny works by the likes of French artists René Lalique, George Fouquet, Eugene Feuillatre, and Lucien Gaillard, from Germany’s related Jugendstil (“youth style”), and from Belgium, Spain, and Russia, as well as by Americans like Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Eschewing the staid, diamond-and-platinum oriented adornments of the day, Art Nouveau jewelers turned to yellow gold, irregularly shaped Baroque pearls, iridescent opals, horn, ivory, and even plastic, and they used enameling techniques — champlevé, cloisonné, plique-à-jour — to add color and light. Their designs evoked the natural world through images of flora, fauna, and nymph-like women. Swans and peacocks come to mini-life next to cherry blossoms, creeping vines, female sphinxes, and marsh fairies — all crafted into brooches, necklaces, hair ornaments, and the belt buckles favored by stylish, wasp-waisted women at the turn of the last century.

Tennis-star rivals Björn Borg and John McEnroe play the role of belligerent protagonists in Peter Sis’s hand-drawn animated short film “PLAYERS.” Made in 1982 and billed as “a pre-perestroika animated satire about human aggression,” it hits MIT’s Media Test Wall beginning July 21. The Czech-born Sis is best known for his children’s books and illustrations, but he began his career in 1975 making animated films, and in 1983 he collaborated with Bob Dylan on “Gotta Serve Somebody” for MTV. In “Players,” which was directed by John Halas, with music by Czech composer Jirí Stivín, Sis mixes pop culture with historic images of war, as the tennis ball morphs into a variety of weapons, precipitating the appearance of Tarzan, a Visigoth, warriors on elephants, French revolutionaries, and, ultimately, nuclear weaponry.

Five recent Boston-area art-school graduates are the subjects of “NASCENT,” which opens at the New England School of Art & Design Gallery on July 25. Work by Mike Farley, Cathleen Faubert, Georgie Friedman, Pete Froslie, and Lizzy Martinez is showcased in an exhibition curated by NESAD Gallery director and long-time Boston art-world denizen James Manning.

On the Web
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 See all articles by: RANDI HOPKINS

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