COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
“Cartier & Aldo Cipullo: New York City in the ’70s”
Cartier. Juste un clou. Courtesy of Cartier

Cartier. Juste un clou. Courtesy of Cartier

The small exhibit on Aldo Cipullo’s designs for Cartier at Cartier’s legendary landmarked Fifth Avenue mansion puts several art museums to shame. Historical context, for the most part absent from major art exhibits and certainly from anything fashion/jewelry related (see my review of “Van Cleef & Arpels: Set in Style”) is adeptly woven in the narrative the renown jewelry house created to showcase its production in 1970s New York City.

The two rooms that house the exhibit on the second floor of Cartier’s store are filled with socio-cultural information drawn from contemporary magazine and newspaper articles; portraits of important figures, such as Liza Minnelli, Angelica Houston, Elizabeth Taylor etc., who became “brand ambassadors” even before the term had been invented; reproductions of working drawings by Aldo Cipullo and Alfred Durante, both working for Cartier in the 1970s; Cartier pieces whose provenance sheds a different light on them (once in the collections of Elizabeth Taylor or the Duchess of Windsor); pieces from private collections including Cartier’s own; working models of iconic designs, such as the nail bracelet; and well-written, succinct wall text and labels that pull Cartier’s rich history together in a coherent and accessible language.

I particularly enjoyed the short segments on Cipullo’s expertise in working with gold while employing the ancient “wax” technique as well as the designer’s knowledge and deep familiarity with colored stones and gems.  I suppose Cipullo’s modernity stemmed from his pre-occupation with how things work and his admitted obsession with the neighborhood hardware store as a source of inspiration. Quite a Renaissance man, Cipullo, the Italian-born, blue-eyed trend-setter worked his stylistic sensitivities, along with his technical expertise, and social know-how to penetrate one of the most demanding clientele: New York high society of the 1970s.

Well-traveled, culturally privileged in their closeness to arts and tradition, and intellectually rebellious in their longing for novelty and change, New Yorkers of the upper class embraced Cipullo as one of them. His designs for Cartier knew immediate success and with the help of popular culture (film and entertainment industries) they became iconic. In fact, the exhibit makes one realize how far and wide Cipullo’s influence on material culture has been since most of his creations found their way into mass production through cheap imitations that gave that decade its “look.”

To such well-curated exhibit, the background music was an offense as was the overhead spot lighting that made it impossible to read the golden lettering of the wall text against the deep (Cartier) red walls. To compensate for these shortcomings, the interactive wall installation that borrows a smart-phone’s touch screen technology further enriches the visitor’s experience in terms of historical and social context.  But this is Cartier after all, and one expects all physical details executed to perfection.

© Thomaï Serdari