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In exhibitions

By marywp

Review: Jewels by JAR

On 28, Dec 2013 | In exhibitions | By marywp

Jewels by JARjar-jewelry-retrospective-at-the-metropolitan-L-tsRA_K

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

November 20, 2013–March 9, 2014


Joel A. Rosenthal, now know by his pseudonym/initials, JAR, has been honored with an exhibition the Metropolitan Museum of Art this winter. The exhibition opened without much fanfare, as a project of the museum’s Modern and Contemporary department, under the leadership of curator Jane Adlin.


This past week, Robin Pogrebin, writing for the New York Times finally made public what had been discussed across tables in the museum community for weeks—that the Jewels by JAR exhibition treads dangerously away from the ethical standards of the museum exhibition.[1] In her December 27 review, Roberta Smith seconded her colleague’s opinion, bestowing on Jewels by JAR the dubious honor of being one of “the most superficial shows” she had ever seen.[2] Finding fault with the seemingly ostentatious display of wealth in a museum which publicly has sought to become more accessible to a wider community of New Yorkers is not the sole reason for the harsh critical outcry. The exhibition, apparently a curatorial take over by a living, designer, enjoying the height of his popularity suggests a weakness by the Met to appease individuals, or corporations, such as Rosenthal is exchange for renewed favor from those who matter most—the higher echelons of museum’s membership tiers and existing or would-be donors.


And yet Jewels for JAR does not come at much of a suprprise. Have we become that accustomed to the Met’s corporate sponsored exhibitions that they are little more than standard fare? With the exception of the Impressionist and Fashion exhibition in 2013, The Costume Institute has developed somewhat a reputation of becoming the museum’s income source. The Costume Gala, the museum’s annual fundraiser responsible for the lion’s share of press attention and celebrity generosity has developed an unofficial role as the museum’s fundraiser.



In 2005 the Museum presented Chanel, an exhibition supported the couture label; Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen retrospective that solidified the reputation and fundraising potential of the previously low-key Costume Institute was likewise funded in part by the House of McQueen. In each instance the Met has been called out by the press and museum critics, yet, unfortunately, the benefits continue to outweigh any shame.

In her essay contribution to the catalog for the 2012 Whitney Bienniale, Andrea Fraser acknowledged “most form of engagement have become so fraught with conflict . . . that they are almost unbearable.”[3] Fraser, who remains one of the more vocal critiques of museological structure, highlights the institutions’ seemingly inevitable conflicts of interest. As MMA director, Tom Campbell has admitted, running a museum, especially one with world-class collections and programming such as the Met, takes a significant amount of hours dedicated to development and long and short-term sustainability. Unfortunately, the exhibitions of interest to scholars and the well-informed members of the museum’s public are often those that promise little revenue. The Met Museum does not charge additional fees for entry into special exhibitions[4]

If we are to follow Smith’s argument, the Met, specifically, curator Jane Adlin, resigned their roles as orchestrators of an exhibition at one of the most powerful museum in the world to appease a subset of the development department. The exhibition has clearly been constructed with the eye of the wealthy collection, dark lighting, a dramatic installation and scant scholarship on the actual objects align the Met’s exhibition with a pre-auction presentation at Christie’s or a designer trunk show (donors and favored members of the museum were treated with a select sale prior to the exhibition’s opening). The exhibition catalog, where the curator typically has the liberty to delve deeper into a study of the objects dismisses this serious function entirely for a laudatory essay by London-based dealer Adrian Sassoon.

In 2012, a JAR brooch sold at auction for 4.3 million dollars, an astronomical cost for a living designer and his popularity with celebrities and collectors suggest that his stock will continue to rise.[5] By celebrating the work of a living, contemporary designer the Met attempted to revise, abet on a smaller scale the blockbuster popularity of But where the McQueen exhibition broke ground curatorially with Andrew Bolton’s presentation and display of garments and the universal embrace of costume as a contemporarily vibrant art form, Jewels for JAR, unknown to much of even the art world prior to the Times’ reports brings little positives to outweigh the its damage. When one balances the monetary cost of the bold exhibition design that transform the galleries into a oval-shaped jewel, and the critical blows taken to what had been a developing Modern and Contemporary department the smiles, or, even the generosity of the jewel’s owners seems a small, if glittery, reward.

[1] Robin Pogrebin “Jewelry Show at the Met Raises Questions” The New York Times December, 23, 2013.


[2] Robert Smith, “All that Glitters: And a Lot that Shines” The New York Times December 27, 2013.


[3] Andrea Fraser “There’s No Place Like Home/ L’1% C’est Moi Whitney Biennial 2012 (New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art), 33-42.

[4] In October 2013 the Bloomberg mayoral administration added an amendment to the museum’s lease with the city allowing for the introduction of additional charges to the “pay what you wish” admission for special exhibitions. Museum spokesman Harold Holzer denied any plans by the Met to institute extra fees for access to special exhibitions, it remains to be discovered it doing so is part of the museum’s long-term feasibility plan.



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