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CULTURE

Sculpture To Wear

Artists' lesser-known accessories showcase brilliance on a smaller scale

by Karen Day
on 29 November 2011
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Over the past five years, art collectors Didier and Martine Haspeslagh have been steadily building a covetable collection of jewelry created by some of the most renowned artists in the world. Dubbed "wearable sculptures" by the husband-and-wife duo, the accessories span brooches by Salvador Dalí to hair pins by Alexander Calder. According to Didier, the couple initially began purchasing the items as a consolation because they couldn't afford the larger-scale sculptures or paintings by these artists. Through the process they became intrigued by the often-overlooked sector of wearable pieces in the art world. Today they have a collection of several hundred works that they sell from their London storefront or exhibit at international art fairs.  

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As Sight Unseen's recently launched jewelry shop shows, artists tend to naturally expand into the world of wearable works. Martine tells us this progression occurs because "these artists have a personal need to create jewels for their intimate circle. Rather than buy another's commercial confections, they create with their own principles laid down in their art already and freely translate these self-imposed rules into wearable sculptures, disseminating their art in an alternative way."

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"My favorite pieces are still the ones by Calder, this man's genius is encapsulated in these tiny works—a lasting epitaph that never fails to impress long after he left us," Didier says. His eight-pronged brass hair comb shows this lesser-known side to his talent. Created in 1940 for his wife, the accessory was riveted together without the use of solder, a signature technique for Calder that reflected his desire to remain true to the materials.

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The Didier Antiques catalog not only provides essential background information for each artist, but also gives context to each piece. Didier tells us his acquisitions process continuously enlightens him, and it's an aspect of collecting he thoroughly enjoys. "I knew Picasso and Dalí had made jewels, but I did not realize so many Central and South American artists partook in this specialist artistic endeavor, like Wilfredo Lam."

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Like Dalí, Lam was a student of reactionary painter Fernando Alvarez de Sotomayor, but the Cuban artist's distinct style also stems from his Afro-Chinese heritage and the witchcraft he learned from his godmother. The gold pendant he created in 1972 for the Aurea exhibition in Italy is a symbolic Apocalypse horse, designed to protect Cuba from American missiles.

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Art Basel attendees can catch the London-based gallery's selection of artist-designed jewels at Design Miami 30 November-5 December 2011

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