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.
Carolyn Kriegman is one example of an artist who used plastic in the 1960s to bring color, scale, and transparency to her bold, sculptural necklaces. She made the first pieces in her New Jersey kitchen, using the stove to heat and bend acrylic into playful forms. The necklace in LACMA’s collection suggests armor fit for America’s next superheroine. Such works were featured in major exhibitions, including the groundbreaking OBJECTS: USA (1969−1973) organized by the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City (now the Museum of Arts and Design), and they helped establish Kriegman as a pioneering figure in the field of contemporary studio jewelry. She and a number of other jewelry artists, beginning in the late 1960s, embraced plastic in their work, and in doing so reinforced key precepts in the field. Through the use of nontraditional materials and techniques, these artists have been able to challenge the values of the conventional jewelry industry, explore jewelry’s relationship to the body, and offer opportunities to both shock and delight.