Interesting article - anyone gotten to see the show?
Jewelry Show at Met Raises Questions
Though not a household name like Tiffany or Cartier, Joel A.
Rosenthal is a major presence in bespoke jewelry. Mr. Rosenthal,
who works under the initials JAR, commands hundreds of thousands
of dollars for his glittering brooches and earrings worn by some
of the wealthiest people in the world, and many view his
creations as works of art.
That is why the Metropolitan Museum of Art says it gave Mr.
Rosenthal an exhibition, "Jewels by JAR," the first it has ever
given to a living jeweler.
"Joel is one of the pre-eminent jewelry designers in the world,"
Thomas P. Campbell, the Met's director, said in an interview.
"He's almost like a sculptor in gems."
But as often happens when museums mix culture with commerce, for
certain people in the art and fashion world the JAR exhibition
is raising questions about what boundaries should be observed in
such a setting. In this case, a pop-up shop and a trunk show
that accompanied the exhibition featured a special collection of
JAR-designed jewelry, with the Met benefiting from the proceeds.
Could the curatorial decision to feature Mr. Rosenthal's work as
art be somewhat blurred by the administrative decision to
generate revenue from his merchandise?
"There is a moral hazard when using a museum as a venue
increases the value of a collection," said Brian Daniels,
director of research and programs at the University of
Pennsylvania Museum's Cultural Heritage Center.
"Having a trunk show is a bit much," he added. "When do you stop
being a museum and start being a showroom?"
Eyebrows were raised further when an accompanying catalog was
largely written by Adrian Sassoon, a leading porcelain and
jewelry dealer, but not a Met curator; and because there is no
wall text or supporting historical material.
Marion Fasel, a jewelry historian and author of several books on
jewelry who saw the show, said she did not like its lack of a
story line, which she said was inspiring "passionate
"Many people are asking me: 'Who is he? Why was he the chosen
one?' " Ms. Fasel said in a telephone interview. "Traditionally,
in a museum like the Met, which I consider an educational
institution, I expect to walk away with more about
the designer, the history, the techniques."
The Met said that the arrangement was nothing new; the museum
has commissioned and sold original prints by Robert
Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Howard Hodgkin and Richard Serra in
conjunction with its collection and with exhibitions, among
"The collaboration reflected JAR's willingness to support the
museum through its merchandising activities," said Elyse
Topalian, a Met spokeswoman. "This is the standard business
model for many museums, including the Met. It allows visitors to
engage with what they have seen and enjoyed, and to support the
museum at the same time."
As to whether there is any distinction between selling
reproductions and selling JAR originals $600 watches and
earrings from $2,500 to $7,500 "they are an edition, produced
under JAR's direction," Ms. Topalian said. "This is absolutely
in the tradition of artists' editions developed and sold by the
Met in the mezzanine gallery store."
The exhibition, which opened on Nov. 20 and runs through March
9, presents nearly 400 of Mr. Rosenthal's pieces, all of them
lent by their owners. Known as a master of the pav technique,
Mr. Rosenthal, now 70, founded his jewelry company with Pierre
Jeannet on the Place Vendme in Paris in 1978. At a Christie's
auction in 2012, a single flower brooch set with rubies and
owned by Lily Safra brought $4.3 million.
The Met has done several exhibitions featuring jewelry by
Faberg, Tiffany and Cartier. Its jewelry-only shows have
included one in 2008 on pieces by Alexander Calder and one on
Turkmen jewelry last year.
There are products associated with just about every exhibition,
Mr. Campbell said, including gold earrings with the current
"Silla" show on the art of Korea. This is the goal of the Met's
merchandise department, he added: "It's a way to generate
The JAR show has so far been well attended, drawing more than
75,000 visitors since it opened. Six gallery talks about the
exhibition were canceled because the Met said the gallery was
too crowded to accommodate them.
The notion of focusing on JAR was first championed by Gary
Tinterow, head of the Met's modern art department before he
became director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, last year.
He said that the Costume Institute shared his interest in JAR.
Mr. Rosenthal has only had two previous shows at a London
gallery in 2002 and for one day at the National Academy of
Design in 1987 but Mr. Tinterow said that JAR was Met-worthy.
"He's the greatest jeweler working in our day," he said, "the
equivalent of Faberg before World War I a consummate craftsman."
"Unlike a Harry Winston or a Graff, it's not about enormous
stones," Mr. Tinterow added. "It's about the artistry and the
Mr. Tinterow also cited precedent for the merchandising, noting
that the Met sold Alexander McQueen tartan purses (along with
armadillo shoe ornaments and crystal skull paperweights) during
the 2011 McQueen retrospective and Chanel products during the
2005 Chanel show, designed with the fashion house. (Writing in
The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman called the
Chanel-sponsored show "a fawning trifle that resembles a fancy
showroom "and"absurdly uncritical.")
The Association of Art Museum Directors, a member organization
that sets standards, said that there was nothing in its
professional practice guidelines that addresses museum
The one-day JAR trunk show was held in the Met's second-floor
Balcony Lounge, usually open only to members contributing $550
or more annually. Invitees also included other museum members
On offer were the same 10 pieces that are for sale in the Met's
shops and two trade books on JAR ($1,400 as a set).
For visitors to the show seeking more on the
designer, a free brochure describes the gems in each object, the
Met noted, adding that other jewelry exhibitions have offered
wall texts, but that they were in multiple room gallery
settings; the JAR show is in one room.
The financier Wilbur Ross, who with his wife, Hilary Geary Ross,
is a sponsor of the JAR exhibition, said that they loaned one of
their pieces "Over the Moon" earrings with diamonds. Other
lenders who agreed to be identified include the model Stephanie
Seymour (a Mughal ring of rubies, pearls and diamonds); the
actress Gwyneth Paltrow (a string necklace of diamonds and
platinum); and the society hostess Susan Gutfreund (oak leaf and
"We've been buying jewelry from JAR for several years," Mr. Ross
said. "He is an absolute genius."
Mr. Rosenthal's prickly selling habits are legend he famously
won't sell to people if he doesn't like the way his pieces look
on them and Mr. Ross said patronizing his unmarked Paris shop is
something of a challenge. "When you rap on the door, some guy
says: 'What is it you want? Why are you here? Who sent you?' "
Mr. Ross said. "They're kind of particular about their
clientele. It sort of makes it fun."
"Everything he does is literally one of a kind that adds to the
charm," Mr. Ross said.
"There's a little cult that has developed I call them JARians,"
Mr. Ross added. "They develop a bond with him and his objects.
People can tell that you're wearing JAR."