Touching the Untouchable: Art Jewelry 

by Marjorie Skinner

Much is made of the relationship between fashion and art—undoubtedly creative, fashion's link to human necessity nonetheless makes it forever outside the high-art inner circle (with the exception, arguably, of couture). That gray distance between fashion and art might be sweepingly referred to as "craft," making Portland's recently revamped Museum of Contemporary Craft the appropriate staging area to negotiate such concepts.

Two linked exhibitions opening this week focus on the spectrum of experiences one commonly has with high fashion, specifically art jewelry. Though created in reference to the body, art jewelry is rarely worn, most commonly experienced on the page of a magazine or under the glass of a traditional museum installation. Framing: The Art of Jewelry aims to explore the distances this creates between the art and the viewer.

Framing's companion exhibition, Touching Warms the Art, turns that convention on its head (as indicated by its title, which takes a playful jab at the "touching harms the art" mentality). It confronts the fact that pieces created for the body are not really complete unless they are worn.

"Activated" is the term Museum Curator Namita Gupta Wiggers likes to use when describing the union of the wearable object to a body. So she, along with colleagues Rebecca Scheer and Rachelle Thiewes sent out a call for submissions, and juried the Touching exhibition, which takes a page from the deep history of the DIY ethic in its emphasis on non-precious materials.

The artists, some of whose work is also exhibited in Framing, used everything from gelato spoons to insulation foam to create pieces that museumgoers are encouraged to not only touch, but try on—a photo kiosk will also be set up, where you can photograph yourself wearing the art and post the images to a Flickr site, accessible by the artists, who will be able to see what their pieces actually look like on the everyday person. In the event that the exhibit inspires your creative bug, a casual art bar with simple craft supplies will also be set up for some impromptu experimentation.

One of the artists who responded to the call for submissions to Touching was prominent local designer Adam Arnold, which helped plant the seed for "Action/Re-Action," a runway show of locally designed apparel to accompany the pieces in the exhibit on January 30. (See next week's Sold Out for more information on the event.) In the meantime, do your homework. (Framing: The Art of Jewelry and Touching Warms the Art open Sat Jan 19; Framing runs through May 11, Touching runs through March 23; Museum of Contemporary Craft, 724 NW Davis, Tues-Sun 11 am-6 pm, Thurs open 'til 8 pm, FREE)

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