The Growth of “Wearable Sculpture”

 “Wearable sculpture” has been accepted in the high quality of material life, resulting in people enjoying a spiritual life. When I say “spiritual life”, I’m referring to people are willing to spend hours of time discovering the meaning behind objects. By high quality material life I mean people surrounding themselves with well-crafted objects. Jewelry is sometimes considered as little wearable sculpture. But jewelry does not have to be wearable. Jewelry is autonomous—it is an independent piece for artists and customers. It has its own story and soul to be set up there. But both of wearable sculpture and jewelry are based on craft. “Wearable sculpture” is more like an artwork, which prefers to express artists’ concepts. Jewelry is a design piece because it is functional to some degree, people has willingness to accept wearable art as decorations. I look through three artists, Francesco Pavan makes independent sculpture, Bruce Metcalf considers reveal meaning and Caroline Broadhead redefines the religions and politics. Through research of three artists, these examples are not mass produced design. The jewelry they make interprets the three artists’ different angles in wearable sculpture.

Artists are not only craftspeople, but they also want to explain their inspiration. The artists in 1960s began finding a new way to explore various expressions of individuality. The reason for jewelry changing in 1960s is that the avant-garde architecture, painting, photography, and sculptural influences from the goldsmiths, changing forms and decorations. However, most people still like the commercial jewelry that is marked to make people look beautiful. So jewelry can be defined into “traditional jewelry” and it relies on people who wear it. Although “wearable sculpture” may exist as an independent piece, it still has a strong relationship with owners and viewers similar to traditional jewelry. The definition of “traditional jewelry” is to be wearable and involves high-quality crafts. During history, until 1960s, jewelry has been prominent in the contemporary period. “Recent increased appreciation for the goldsmith’s art, for the power of conceptual thinking, and for jewelry’s shared history with movements in painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, and design have set the stage for the future.” Thus, “wearable sculpture” is a certain practice in the future.

In the 1960s, jewelry artists are influenced by Constructivism and Surrealism. In the article “ Wearable Sculptures: Modern Jewelry and the Problem of Autonomy” (Adamson) says, “Constructivism on the one hand, which tended towards an unexpected assertion of autonomy from the body, and Surrealism on the other, which tended to attempt a complete integration of body and jewel”. Here the “autonomy” means that jewelry can be independent, it is an individual piece and it has its own spiritual meaning and can be symbolic of a specific period. The historical meaning of jewelry does not depend on who makes it rather than who wears it. The jewelry itself has its own story rather than limited to someone’s jewelry. For example, Francesco Pavan’s work, Brooch, which was made in 1986, is more like a little sculpture. He did the work as a brooch that can definitely be separate from the body. It can be put somewhere, and does not have to touch the body. Second, he focuses on the space not the ornaments. The space is an abstract concept implied through the jewelry and it does not have to have many relationships with human bodies.

Obviously, if people want to enjoy the spiritual life, Pavan’s works are not suitable for that. People who live a spiritual life generally want to get some useful information from an artwork, such as a touching story. But Pavan’s work, Brooch, does not have this function; his works are too abstract for costumers, so they do not hold value within spiritually driven way of life. Furthermore wearing Pavan’s Brooch could be perceived unsatisfying because it does not match lots of clothes and it will appear out of place. Many people wear jewelry to decorate themselves, they do not want jewelry to become the central figure. They want to draw attention to themselves not draw attention to decorations on their bodies.

Francesco Pavan,   Brooch   1986  Die Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich – On permanent loan from the Danner-Stiftung, Munich  Gold, silver, white copper, copper  Photo: Die Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich

Francesco Pavan,



Die Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich – On permanent loan from the Danner-Stiftung, Munich

Gold, silver, white copper, copper

Photo: Die Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich

Pavan makes his works separate from bodies and they are individual pieces, whereas artist Bruce Metcalf focuses on a narrative-symbolist mode from the late 1970s. Narrative symbolism is using human-shaped figures in order to tell artist’s own experience. He was making jewelry in an independent way, at first, he started his career as a sculptor then he changed to making jewelry. “ While I continued to make such objects until the early 1990s, it became increasingly clear to me that most of the world was not prepared to recognize them as legitimate sculpture.” So the way to express jewelry as wearable sculpture is a long process. Bruce Metcalf tries to make some sculptures that help him to tell a story in the early 1980s. He shifts to cartoon-like figures, but works in an abstract way. He simplifies the body shape and emphasizes the emotional face. It is a way to express an artist’s own concept and ask sculpture to tell its own story to the audience. We can say wearable sculpture is artist’s own statements rather than productions for customers.

Bruce Metcalf’s work Two Doves in a Private Garden (1999) has a special meaning. In the late 1990s, he has a stable relationship and prepares to get married and at that time, he considers to give wearable objects a new life in an emotion field. And after his suggestions, many art jewelers abandon to express this field; finally, Metcalf decides to try in the sentimental jewelry part. Because the last sentimental jewelry period is the late 19th century and emotions is hard to exhibit in a specific imagery, he decides to use the Victory jewelry shape to represent the main shape. The most important thing in “wearable sculpture” is metaphor, which is using elements to assemble an entire story. In the old content of Victoria jewelry: “flames to indicate the burning pain of unrequited love; gold to donate purity; a cage to suggest the restrictions inherent in bonds of affection”. Two Doves in a Private Garden’s figure is stylized because it's hard to observe in male or female, the ambiguous shape express the feeling of a courtship or marriage, which combines male and female into one figure. Although there’s lack of one eye and a mouth, it does not affect the feeling of seduction. The golden leaves cover the entire figure. The reason for two doves on the top of the ivy is that doves mean fidelity and ivy means permanency. It is an old tale of love. Sometimes for jewelry artists, the audiences understand the meaning behind jewelry is not very important, they just find a media to keep their memories.

Compared with Francesco Pavan’s work, Brooch, Metcalf’s work is more successful at telling a story. To this point, his work, Two Doves in a Private Garden, is figurative, so most people can understand what he wants to express. When viewers go to the gallery, they will get useful information from the artist and this is a communication between viewers and artists. If one understands the artist’s work, the work is meaningful for achieving spiritual reality in life through the objects. Metcalf’s work is representational and it usually shows sensitive emotions, such as love, loss and stability. In addition, when viewers see the jewelry on the wearers’ body, viewers can assume that wearers’ personal relationship with the jewelry. The work has an invisible connection to the viewers, it touches the viewers’ memories, which supports the artist’s intentions. 

Bruce Metcalf  Two Doves in a Private Garden  1999  Collection of Diane and Marc Grainer 23k gold leaf over maple and brass, 18k gold, copper, ebony, plastic resin, garnets  3 ¾" x 3"

Bruce Metcalf

Two Doves in a Private Garden


Collection of Diane and Marc Grainer
23k gold leaf over maple and brass, 18k gold, copper,
ebony, plastic resin, garnets

3 ¾" x 3"

Unlike Metcalf, Caroline Broadhead does not have any intentions to tell the viewers her own stories. She is an artist who does not only focus on jewelry making, but also her work represents a kind of modern jewelry that is not limited to materials. She puts more attention on the relationship between bodies and works rather than Bruce Metcalf. Because she has a strong background in textile, she uses nylon monofilament to make her works look light and linear. For her, the feeling between visibility and invisibility, space, matter, substance, and non-substance are time elements. She says, “ I have been trying to indicate something more than is here, as a line drawing may imply and suggest volume, space and substance. It is this act of the imagination, the filling in of gaps, that makes up the final piece.” Thus, Broadhead’s perspective is to show that space and time depends on the viewers’ imagination. Although she explores her jewelry sculpture as a physical independent piece, she still considers the wearable function on the body.

In the late 1970s, Broadhead travels to East Africa, the “African style” of powerful large-scale body ornament and jewelry heavily inspire her. She begins to explore the area, wearing, feeling, and handling as the main focus of her work. Through in cooperating these three strategies, she makes jewelry as a subject and object of her work. The making of jewelry as subject and object are ways in which jewelry is both one part of someone and a separate piece. In her work, Necklace/ Veil (1983), the texture is watery and almost transparent. When the wearers look through the necklace, they experience a new perspective of the world. The writer John Houston describes this work, “ In particular the veil, create potent, ambiguous and disturbing images when worn.” It has an African jewelry shape to raise the woman’s head, but it delivers a different meaning than in the past, it is not about religious or making in political way, it is an innocent culture. Broadhead writes in an article “A Part/ Apart”, “ by recording and translating the physical space that defines two people as close, but separate beings, the experience of a kiss becomes a visible and tangible, but visually unrecognizable, object.” So whatever she works in jewelry or the later Bodyscape work, she discusses the relationship between object and body, she insists on that jewelry has to be comfortable to wear and becomes clothing. Then she abandons the language of jewelry into clothing.

In her work, Necklace/Veil, Broadhead totally uses her way to give viewers a new angle to understand the jewelry. When it is displayed on a pedestal it is an artist’s personal work. But when someone wears it, it is a part of their body because it can change the field of vision and influence the wearers’ life. Viewers cannot enjoy any spiritual story in it but they will enjoy this work in the material realm. If they have a willingness to try to put it on the body, they could be a central figure because of this jewelry. The wearer as central figure is inserted in a materiality—they are filling in the physical gaps. 

Caroline Broadhead  Necklace/Veil  1983  National Gallery of Victoria  Nylon monofilament and dye  7.6 x29.2cm

Caroline Broadhead



National Gallery of Victoria

Nylon monofilament and dye

7.6 x29.2cm

Wearable sculptures still ask artists to have a high-quality craft skill. It is an experimental way to develop the jewelry. It is a new category to tell artists to explain themselves more, and design does not only serve people, it can be a media to speak loudly. Pavan’s work lacks a certain meaning because it is not representational and he puts more attention on the shape of the work and does not consider more about the wearers’ feelings. Metcalf has a good sense in telling a story through his wearable sculptures and his work makes a strong relationship to viewers and wearers’ spiritual life. Although Broadhead’s works look abstract, she concentrates on relating wearable sculptures to the wearers’ body giving her works material life value.













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