African-American artist Art Smith trained at Cooper Union and opened his first shop on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village in 1946. This exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Smith’s jewelry is enhanced by archival material from the artist’s estate, such as sketches, the original shop sign, the artist’s tools, and period photographs of models wearing the jewelry.
Inspired by surrealism, biomorphism, and primitivism, Smith’s jewelry is dynamic in its size and form. Truly a break out artisan, Smith’s sensuous designs appealed to the artistic and avant garde clientele that thrived in Greenwich Village during the late 40’s to 1960’s.
For his most iconic design, the “Patina” necklace, Smith is obviously referencing the modern artist Alexander Calder and his mobile creations. However, Smith took that inspiration and created a unique sensual and primitive form that embraces the neck of the wearer almost as a snake would hug the neck of its handler.
Art Smith Patina necklace – Auerbach and Maffia collection
Other Art Smith designs recall the art of Africa. The cuff bracelet entitled “Modernette ” is unmistakable in its reference to the mbira [sansa] or African finger piano. In reflecting his own personal cultural heritage, Smith imbued his jewelry with a special beauty, scale and sense of tribal grandeur as well as encompassing European and American art references.
Art Smith Modernette cuff bracelet – Auerbach and Maffia collection
Well worth the trip this exhibition lasts until March 14th.
The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York.