Critics’ Picks

Josef Hoffmann, Bracelet acquired by Mäda Primavesi, 1914, gold, diamond, ivory, 2 x 8".

Josef Hoffmann, Bracelet acquired by Mäda Primavesi, 1914, gold, diamond, ivory, 2 x 8".

New York

“Focus: Wiener Werkstätte Jewelry”

Neue Galerie New York
1048 Fifth Avenue
October 4, 2018–January 21, 2019

Literally a jewel box of a show, this exhibition of jewelry, made by the Wiener Werkstätte (1903–32)—a coalition of Viennese artists and artisans committed to fusing traditional craftsmanship to modern design principles—is hidden amid a sea of contour drawings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Curator Janis Staggs has assembled an impressive collection of recherché miniature masterpieces here, many drawn from private collections, and displayed them in a wooden vitrine lined with a luscious black fabric that sets off their polychromatic, semiprecious stones. Diamonds have little place in the Werkstätte’s oeuvre; Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, the workshop’s cofounders, believed that the value of a piece should derive from design and craftsmanship, not from the material’s costliness. Gemstones such as opals, carnelian, coral, bloodstone, and leopardite take center stage in these delicately wrought bijous, lending their gorgeous rainbow hues to strikingly modern, symmetrical compositions that draw on Art Nouveau tropes but never fully succumb to the style’s signature floridity, instead anticipating the next decade’s attention to geometry.

One of the show’s most astonishing pieces is also one of its oldest: a necklace from 1903 designed by Moser, bought by Klimt and then gifted to his partner Emilie Flöge, who often paired the piece with tentlike reform dresses that she herself designed. The necklace’s base is a chain dotted with silver four-pointed stars, off of which hang drops of carnelian inset with tiny diamonds that are only visible to its wearer. In his signature brooches, twelve of which are on view, Hoffmann managed to fit rounded gems into square silver frames so that the eye roams contentedly around their ping-ponging forms. Meanwhile, a necklace by Maria Likarz-Strauss dated 1919–20, created by sewing thousands of glass beads around a silk chord, would look particularly fantastic on any stylishly kooky woman from the Upper West Side. It is an absolute pleasure to see these items as Hoffmann and Moser would have presented them—not as mere baubles, but as the exquisite objets d’art they truly are.