Italy’s Avant-Garde Art Jewelry on Display

PISTOIA, Italy — Postwar Italy, with a thriving art scene and its tradition of artisanship still robust, produced several of the late 20th century’s most influential jewelry artists. Now, a new exhibition has brought together the work of three of that era’s best-known avant-garde creators: Mario Pinton, Francesco Pavan and Giampaolo Babetto.

“These are the jewels that open the way for contemporary jewelry,” the exhibition’s curator, Marco Bazzini, said. He was standing in the galleries of the Marino Marini Foundation in the Tuscan town of Pistoia, northwest of Florence, where the show, “Rigor and Freedom,” is on view until March 24.

A total of 150 pieces by the three men are on display, along with a small introductory selection of jewels and miniatures by Mr. Marini, one of Italy’s great sculptors of the 20th century. A Modernist, Mr. Marini taught sculpture to Mr. Pinton, who translated his groundbreaking ideas to jewelry. Mr. Pinton went on to teach at the Pietro Selvatico industrial arts institution in the northern Italian town of Padua, where he introduced his craft and theory to Mr. Pavan and, later, Mr. Babetto.

“I see these jewels as contemporary artworks in every sense,” said Mr. Bazzini, the former art director of the Pecci Museum in Prato, Italy. With works united by geometric shapes and technical skill, the chronological exhibition demonstrates how, as goldsmiths, the men took on the burgeoning art movements of the times — arte informale, kinetic and optical art — before establishing a contemporary jewelry style that was as experimental with forms as it was with techniques.

Their jewelry was often grand in scale, a profusion of gold worked to the finest gauge possible, creating great volumes in hollow forms and surprisingly light weights. A prime example, the slinky necklace of gold hoops by Mr. Pavan stretches to more than 6 feet 6 inches; doubled, it still fills the length of a display case yet its links of razor-thin sheet metal are practically weightless. It is also intricately jointed to articulate neatly in four directions, so the necklace will follow the wearer’s body.

In the men’s work, gold “is no longer linked to preciousness, but to the technical malleability and elasticity that first made it precious to goldsmiths,” Mr. Bazzini said. Gemstones were nearly eliminated in their designs, replaced with progressively more experimental touches of color: black niello, a mix of metals; ebony; resin; plexiglass; pigment; even broken glass.

Mr. Pinton died in 2008, but Mr. Pavan and Mr. Babetto continue to create their sharp-angled architectural constructions, and to teach — now in Florence — their unorthodox vision to a new generation of jewelry artists.

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