The exquisite and beguiling creations of Australian National Living Treasure Robert Baines will be on view at the Arkansas Arts Center July 20 through October 7, 2018. Robert Baines: Living Treasure and Fabulous Follies celebrates the dazzling and witty work of the master goldsmith, craftsman and scholar.
A leading scholar in the field of archaeometallurgy, Baines has studied and revived Bronze Age goldsmith techniques in service of international jewelry scholarship. His study of the ancient techniques also has informed his artistic practice for more than 40 years. In Living Treasure and Fabulous Follies, Baines assembles a fictitious jewelry narrative, captivating not only in the creativity and craftsmanship evident in the works, but also in the artist’s fascination with the enigma of jewelry as material evidence of authentic history.
Baines’ jewelry references the design vocabulary of historic European metalworking techniques in a completely distinct aesthetic. By using ancient techniques in playful new ways, Baines challenges the mythology present in contemporary culture. By combining precious metals and contemporary materials, he pushes the boundaries of what wearable art can be.
Living Treasure and Fabulous Follies features 76 works organized into three narrative arcs – Armbandits, Collecting, and The Official History of the Compact Disc – each presenting jewelry as material evidence. The jewelry, however, should be viewed with caution – the artist’s linear “histories” are rife with myth, riddle, puzzle and possible subversions of their origin. In Armbandits, Baines explores how an 11th century Islamic armlet in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art may have been “misunderstood, misinterpreted and become a fantasy of influence of further design,” ranging from armbands, bracelets, and finger rings to a hair clip and buttons. He even posits that the design of the popular Australian VoVo® marshmallow biscuit is “a result of a series of misinterpretations” of the armlet.
In Collecting, Baines curates “the smallest collection of large jewelry in the world.” Assembled both for the significance of their scale – large and small – the works are fabricated in complex detail and contain multiple, intricate components. In The Official History of the Compact Disc, Baines argues how the “B.C. and the A.D. of the C.D. is a fractured historical narrative of the evolution of the now common compact disc (CD)” as seen through “its repetitive manifestations in a linear jewelry history.” The section contains a variety of disc-shaped brooches, including an early and very complex Etruscan gold disc said to be from the fifth century B.C. and concludes with the most technically complex work, Brooch, Meaner Than Yellow. Between them is a variety of brooches featuring a menagerie of animals, including felines, giraffes, and rabbits.
One of the most prominent contemporary goldsmiths in the world, Baines is the recipient of numerous international awards, including the Bayerischer State Prize (2005) and Friedrich Becker Prize (2008) in Germany; and the Cicely and Colin Rigg Craft Award (1997), the richest craft prize in Australia. He holds a Ph.D. from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), where he is a professor of gold and silversmithing. In 2010, he was designated a Living Treasure: Master of Australian Craft. Baines’s astonishingly detailed metalwork, which reflects his studies in archaeometallurgy, embodies ancient techniques such as linear wirework and granulation but with the scale, grandeur, and irony of current practice. His jewelry is contained in countless international museum collections, including: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Powerhouse Museum, Sidney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Schmuckmuseum, Pforzheim, Germany; Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg; and Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; among others.
Robert Baines: Living Treasure and Fabulous Follies is organized by Gallery Loupe for Contemporary Art Jewelry, Montclair, New Jersey, in collaboration with the Arkansas Arts Center. Its American tour is generously supported by the Australian government through the Australia Council for the Arts. Its presentation in Arkansas is supported by: Marion W. Fulk; Alan DuBois Contemporary Craft Fund; and Ginanne Graves Long.
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