The de Saisset Museum is best known for art exhibits that highlight the diversity of Northern California’s past, present, and future. An exhibit this fall pushes viewers in a completely different direction- forcing visitors to reconsider the nature and beauty of adornment in a provocative and intriguing way.
Guest curated by Melissa Behravesh, Jeweled Prosthetics: Jewelry as an Extension of Self features sculpture and photography by Lauren Kalman and Catherine Grisez that questions what is traditionally considered beautiful, and encourages viewers to consider how they adorn themselves.
Behravesh first decided to curate this exhibition in 2009, originally thinking she would feature the work of several artists. She quickly changed her mind after some research, choosing to only feature Kalman and Grisez because of the balance and the sense of play that their work evokes.
“The work isn’t easy but it’s well made, well-thought-out work that lives beyond the body,” said Behravesh.
Not only is the work difficult to make, it’s difficult to wear. Kalman’s “Hard Wear” series features gold and pearl mouthpieces and various gilded face accouterments with photos revealing the drool and tears of the wearers. Kalman further probes the idea of adornment with exaggerated gold orbs tucked into cheeks, behind ears, and between fingers where conventional jewelry is often placed.
Grisez also plays with the idea of adornment, but her works deal more with the beautification of wounds—pink beads pouring from slit wrists and stop watches spilling out of scarred heels. Though the exhibit explores adornment and jewelry, none of the pieces appear influenced by any recognizable fashion trends. “You don’t really realize what you’re looking at and then, when you do, your throat catches and after it’s frightening, you start to notice the beauty,” said Grisez.
The de Saisset student staff has an ongoing debate as to which part of the exhibit and accompanying video is toughest to watch. That's a response definitely intended by the artist.
“It’s all about me putting something out in the world to make people think differently, even if they turn away in disgust. Sometimes we need that in our everyday lives,” said Grisez.
Curating the exhibition wasn’t easy either. Behravesh has worked in the Bay Area for several years but is currently living in Kansas City. Kalman is based in Detroit and Grisez in Seattle, making Jeweled Prosthetics a tri-city effort to bring these works to Santa Clara.
Despite the challenges, the exhibit has generated positive responses and has people talking around campus.
“If you look at the work and see the power behind it, it is beautiful even if it is uncomfortable, especially since it’s not what we usually associate with jewelry,” said Behravesh.
Jeweled Prosthetics: Jewelry as an Extension of Self will be featured at the de Saisset until Sunday, Dec. 2.