Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection at Cooper Hewitt





“Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection,” opening Nov. 17, celebrates the recent gift from the renowned collector to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. On view through May 28, 2018, the exhibition, co-curated by Ursula Ilse-Neuman and Cooper Hewitt, features 150 brooches, necklaces, bracelets and rings, and traces radical developments in jewelry from the mid-20th century to the present. Works on view highlight jewelry design’s expressive and innovative achievements, ranging from works that make a political statement by eschewing silver and gold for industrial materials, to pieces that employ found materials to tell a personal narrative.

“It is with much gratitude that Cooper Hewitt has accepted this collection of modern and contemporary jewelry from a champion of the field,” said Caroline Baumann, director of the museum. “The Susan Grant Lewin Collection significantly expands the range and depth of Cooper Hewitt’s jewelry holdings to encompass the inventive approach of the studio jewelry movement and the impact of later groundbreaking conceptual and materials-driven contemporary jewelry design.”

The exhibition captures the diversity and achievement of modern and contemporary jewelry designers from Germany, Holland, Japan, Israel, the United States and elsewhere. Many of the pieces confront social, political or personal concerns using unconventional materials and techniques. Contained within a ring may be a history of the mathematical proportions of the Palladian villas of the Veneto, as in the case of Giampaolo Babetto. Within a bracelet may be a rejection of the cult of the precious, as seen in Otto Künzli’s “Gold Makes You Blind,” where an 18-karat gold ball is encased in a rubber bangle.

“I have been collecting jewelry for decades and it only becomes more exciting as the field of conceptual jewelry design continues to flourish,” said Susan Grant Lewin. “I meet designers from around the world, so the collection is international in scope. I like to find the leaders and innovators—the most experimental jewelry designers—and I am thrilled that Cooper Hewitt is exposing their revolutionary work to the general public.”

Highlights of the works on view include:

  • Intricate beading by 2016 MacArthur Fellow Joyce Scott, who depicts moments of sexism and racism and calls attention to their engendered violence
  • A silver and acrylic kinetic ring by Friedrich Becker, 1993, designed to axially rotate in response to the gestures of the hand that wears it
  • Ted Noten’s rejection of habituation and embrace of the unexpected, as seen in his 2003 pendant necklace, “Fred,” which encases a fly and a pearl in his signature cast acrylic
  • Kiff Slemmons’ narrative necklaces, including her 2008 piece, “Reliquary of My Own Making,” constructed of photographs that document her design process
  • The tongue-in-cheek, conceptual smoking instrument, “Manhattan Piece,” 1987, by Otto Künzli; a tubular design allows the wearer to exhale cigarette smoke through a brooch or button
  • Pioneering assemblage pieces that were the first to make curious whimsy out of the everyday, such as Ramona Solberg’s 1989 necklace featuring two dominos on a leather cord
  • Brooches and body ornamentation by American jewelry pioneer Arline Fisch, who applies an innovative technique of weaving metal
  • Abstract, painterly brooches from Thomas Gentille, who uses materials such as goldflecked bronze, aluminum and eggshell inlay
  • A necklace made of coal and recycled paper feathers from Attai Chen’s “Compounding Fractions” series, 2010, which portrays decay as delicately beautiful
  • Work by Jamie Bennett, whose gold and enamel brooches act as canvases for abstract imagery reminiscent of vegetal Persian tapestries or paintings by Joan Miró

“Jewelry of Ideas: Gifts from the Susan Grant Lewin Collection” is made possible in part by the Rotasa Fund, Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), Gallery Loupe, Sienna Patti, William P. Short III, in memory of Nancy Jean Fulop Short, Helen W. Drutt English, Kim and Al Eiber and Ornamentum Gallery.


The exhibition will include a series of programs and workshops that explore topics in contemporary jewelry and how designers have revolutionized the field; including a reception and collectors' conversation with Susan Grant Lewin (Nov. 16); a full-day symposium with esteemed scholars and celebrated designers and jewelers, including Bruce Metcalf, Kliff Slemmons, and Joyce Scott; (Nov. 17), a jewelry workshop with world-renowned enamellist Jaime Bennett (Nov. 18); and a Tea and Talk with prominent jewelry collectors (Dec. 12). For a complete roster of events, visit


An accompanying 176-page publication by Ilse-Neuman will be published by Cooper Hewitt and distributed domestically by ARTBOOK | D.A.P. and internationally by Arnoldsche Art Publishers. Featuring hundreds of full-color illustrations, the catalog will explore the groundbreaking techniques and materials used by more than 90 world-class jewelry designers, with their accompanying process statements. Retail price: $40.

Jewelry of Ideas: The Susan Grant Lewin Collection is made possible in part by the Rotasa Fund, Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG), Gallery Loupe, Sienna Patti, William P. Short III, in memory of Nancy Jean Fulop Short, Helen W. Drutt English, Kim and Al Eiber and Ornamentum Gallery.

This publication is made possible in part by the museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Publications Fund.