Fantastic in Plastic: Jewelry from the Lois Boardman Collection
PLASTICS. With one word The Graduate helped define a generation, one that sneered at the perceived superficiality of American life and its “artificial” products. While the material was ubiquitous in industry by the time the film hit theaters in 1967, jewelers were just beginning to grapple with plastic’s potential. It was an inexpensive, malleable material, free of the value-laden connotations of precious metals and gemstones.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has received a remarkable gift of more than three hundred pieces of contemporary studio jewelry from South Pasadena collector Lois Boardman and her husband Bob, featuring work from the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. This fall LACMA will host the exhibition Beyond Bling: Jewelry from the Lois Boardman Collection, which will showcase the diversity of materials and forms studio jewelers have used over the last half century. Plastics are integral to many extraordinary works in the Boardman collection, and using examples from those holdings we can trace key moments and approaches to these manmade materials in studio jewelry. Over the last fifty years, plastics have gone from innovative industrial products to materials that permeate almost every aspect of modern life. This transformation has affected how jewelers approach these materials, ranging from an early and sustained enthusiasm for plastics’ creative potential to more recent critiques of their place in contemporary consumer culture.
Plastics come in many forms, and San Francisco jeweler Emiko Oye found her niche using LEGO bricks. Captivated by color, she was immediately drawn to plastics and, after struggling to cut and polish Plexiglas for a line of jewelry, came to consider LEGOs. As a proponent of recycled and reused materials, Oye brings new life to the plastic blocks, which she generally employs “as is,” opting to maintain their recognizable forms. From online vendors, she sources unique colors and distinctive shapes to create such works as Maharajah’s 6th, which was part of her 2007–2009 series, My First Royal Jewels. This piece was inspired by Louis Boucheron’s 1928 design drawing for an emerald and diamond necklace that Oye had seen on display at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Her reinterpretation of the historical colors and form using LEGO bricks raises issues of value and preciousness through comparisons with the piece’s jeweled predecessor.