A dazzling exhibition on view through February 17 at Woods-Gerry Gallery presents a comprehensive look at RISD’s Jewelry + Metalsmithing programs, featuring work by current undergraduate and graduate students as well as pieces by some of the department’s most prominent alumni. J+M Triennial: Shape Shifters addresses the elusive and always evolving nature of the medium.
“Jewelry is never neutral and it’s never fixed,” explains Department Head Tracy Steepy. “It’s different on different bodies and in different contexts.”
To bring in an international perspective, Steepy invited contemporary jewelry gallerist Marie-José van den Hout—owner of the groundbreaking Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen, Netherlands—to curate part of the exhibition.
“There’s nothing timid about the work Marzee [van den Hout’s professional moniker] selected for her room,” says Steepy. “She knows as much about the work of RISD J+M alumni as anybody out there and has been really supportive of emerging RISD artists, particularly at the graduate level.”
“I like sculptural pieces and pieces that are well made,” says Marzee. “And I don’t like things to be too pretty—too decorative.”
The Marzee room features “reconstituted jewelry” by NYC-area artist MJ Tyson 09 JM/MFA 17 that considers the life cycle of family heirlooms. Tyson created her chunky Inheritance series by melting down jewelry bought at area estate sales and then pouring the metal into molds. “Each piece represents what was left behind in a specific dwelling,” Steepy explains.
Work on display in the same gallery by current grad student Valerie James MFA 19 JM asks viewers to consider the changeable nature of the materials she favors. Coffin No. 1: Object with Remains (carved graphite, graphite powder, Plexiglass), for example, presents both form and anti-form, matter and anti-matter.
Moving into another room, visitors encounter work by sophomores and juniors grouped together by the assignment or prompt. “The pieces on view really give you a sense of what skills students were honing,” says Steepy—“how each project helped to train their hands and eyes.” A magnificent selection of cast brooches is on display alongside functional yet striking objects like copper spoons and tableware that bely the experience level of the artists who designed and made them.
Another gallery spotlights the work of seniors and grad students, who focus on making bodies of work rather than responding to specific assignments. Some of them, such as Rebecca Schena 19 JM, are using their work to voice frustrations about the current political climate. Others, like Luke Towne 19 JM, are clearly focused on material alchemy.
“The diverse work included in the show addresses changing definitions, not just in jewelry and hollowware forms, but also in the representations of identity, politics and even the use of materials themselves,” says RISD President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID.
And despite the wide range of work on view, the exhibition flows seamlessly from gallery to gallery in part because of its consistent approach to display. Steepy and a small team of full-time faculty members (assistant professors Arthur Hash and Timothy Veske-McMahon) designed the elegant and understated plywood display tables in each space.
“I’m so proud of all of the work,” says Steepy. “It provides concrete evidence of what students in RISD’s Jewelry + Metalsmithing program are accomplishing and helps us articulate and map out plans for the future.”