The Dallas Museum of Art takes visitors through the creative process of jewelers inspired by Eastern art in its spectacular new show, “Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity.”
The exhibition is somewhat different from a show by the same name that opened in October at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and reportedly attracted more than 100,000 visitors.
DMA director Augustín Arteaga said the idea for the Dallas show was born at a 2018 meeting where he discussed the idea with Cartier heritage, image and style director Pierre Rainero and DMA decorative arts and design curator Sarah Schleuning.
At a press conference, Arteaga said he had long been an admirer of Cartier jewelry as a form of artistic expression and had curated an exhibition for the house at the Palacios de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1999.
Cartier exhibitions, which draw heavily on jewelry, documents and other items from its own archive, are always curated by third-party professionals, Rainero noted.
The Dallas show was also inspired by the Keir Collection of Islamic Art, an esteemed assemblage of nearly 2,000 works that has been on long-term loan to the DMA since 2014.
“Since I joined the DMA in 2016, one of my goals has been to connect our museum with our diverse constituency and to provide our visitors the opportunity to see themselves represented here and learn about world cultures,” Artega said.
The dimly lit exhibit is as dazzling as it is dense, spotlighting more than 130 pieces of glittering Cartier jewelry, handbags, cigarette cases, compacts and other items that largely date to the first half of the 20th century.
The lavish baubles are explicated by artwork and decorative objects from the Middle East, India, North Africa and Asia that resemble their shape and form, including paintings, pottery, manuscripts, architectural illustrations and textiles.
Louis J. Cartier, grandson of house founder Jacques Cartier, became an admirer and collector of Islamic artworks after expositions in Paris in 1903 and 1912 and Munich in 1910 that introduced the genre to a European audience.
In addition, his brother Jacques traveled to India and Bahrain and brought inspirational objects back home.
“The discovery of Islamic art was so new,” Rainero said in an interview. “It was an enchantment of new shapes that were very decorative and very different from what was in the environment.”
Cartier had his designers spend hours studying and drawing the interlocking and interlacing forms, he noted.
“He asked the designers to go into the essence of new shapes, not only for the sake of their intrinsic beauty, but also for the possibility to build on those shapes and create something distinctive and appropriate for the new century,” Rainero explained.
The patterns and forms that Cartier began exploring in the early 20th century influenced the Art Deco style that matured in the 1920s and 1930s.
Because jewelry is small, lead exhibition designer Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro in New York deployed 10 super-high-resolution digital videos to magnify about 20 pieces to wall size, revealing structure and patterns that might otherwise be missed.
Each of the four galleries features a projection that animates the concept and construction of a Cartier “hero object” that is displayed alone with the video.
The analysis of a 1922 gold, coral and diamond bandeau tiara, for instance, begins with an architectural drawing of similar shape and animates the creation of the gold frame and stones dropping into their settings.
“People stop and look at the hero object and back at the video, and it helps them see the intricacy, the construction, the patterns that are super complex,” Diller said. “It took us a while to figure out how these things were constructed.”
Another unusual presentation is the “breathing necklace,” a lacy 1948 gold and diamond bib clasped around a mock neck and shoulders that moves slowly up and down, lifting the necklace from flat to contoured and back again.
It has been over seven years since the last North American Cartier exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, noted Mercedes Abramo, president and chief executive officer of Cartier North America.
“It’s wonderful to have an exhibition of this size and scale for Cartier,” Abramo said. “It’s about getting people excited about Cartier, both our existing clients and new clients.”
She declined to say how the four-month show in Paris may have affected sales, store or web traffic.
Cartier feted museum supporters and presenting sponsor PNC Bank on Tuesday evening and flew in about 150 to 200 important clients and about 20 members of the press for dinner at the museum on Wednesday and subsequent previews of the show, which runs until Sept. 18.
Schleuning curated the exhibition with DMA curator of Islamic and medieval art Heather Ecker, Musée des Arts Décoratifs chief curator of ancient and modern jewelry Évelyn Possémé and Musée du Louvre curator and deputy director of Islamic art Judith Hénon.
“What I hope people walk away with,” Schleuning said, “is this incredible idea of what it means to be inspired, to look at things from the past…and how they inspire new ideas.”