Undulating waves projected floor to ceiling on the walls of the room create the sensation of being in the middle of a massive body of water. But this is not your average jewellery exhibition.
Suddenly sounds overcome the visitor—an increasingly turbulent storm, an apocalyptic crash of thunder, then a near-deafening silence. Suspended above the space is a wooden flat-bottomed boat, and glowing from the “water” are dozens of small windows displaying exquisite pieces of jewellery.
This multisensory experience was designed by American theatre director and artist Robert Wilson to showcase Van Cleef & Arpels’ latest high jewellery collection, L’Arche de Noé (Noah’s Ark). Having made its debut in Paris last September, it's set to open in Hong Kong at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center from March 10 to 26.
One of today’s foremost theatre and visual artists, Wilson is described by the New York Times as “a towering figure in the world of experimental theatre, and an explorer in the uses of time and space on stage.”
Writers and performers he's collaborated with include Heiner Müller, Tom Waits, Susan Sontag, Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, Lou Reed and Jessye Norman -- although he's never worked with jewellery.
“The sudden boisterous thunder is, of course, intentional,” says Wilson. “Because the silence that follows gives you clarity and focus on the jewellery in a different way.”
Without any experience working with jewellery, Wilson had some homework to do before starting the project.
“I went to see a number of jewellery showrooms and, I probably shouldn’t say this, but they are so boring,” he says. “They all pretty much look the same. So just as I do with all my projects, I asked myself: How can I touch the public with this jewellery exhibition? How can I move the visitors?"
Wilson’s early sketches of the installation show what perhaps most visitors would expect: a massive, solid ark. “But it just wasn’t right,” he says, “it was way too predictable and would occupy too much space.”
As he recalls his process, he takes out his sketchpad, starts to draw and says, “I got thinking of a tiny boat. And this little thing, you’d imagine, would be nestled in this big empty space. Not only will we achieve this illusion of space, we also give the jewellery breathing room.”
A Public Exhibition
The L’Arche de Noé show is the first jewellery exhibition Van Cleef & Arpels has opened to the public, a rare event in the world of high jewellery.
Right from the collection’s inception, Van Cleef & Arpels president and CEO Nicolas Bos felt strongly it would be a “far-reaching” one appreciated by a much wider audience than jewellery connoisseurs.
It is, after all, inspired by Noah’s Ark, a story with universal resonance, and in developing the collection, one particular image caught the designers’ attention.
“The famous scene of a big herd of various animals being led by Noah to the ark has been depicted hundreds of times in the past, but we were drawn to one in particular—a 1613 painting by Flemish painter Jan Brueghel the Elder called The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark,” explains Bos.
“That was the specific inspiration for this collection, and what attracted us to it was the way it brings a great number and variety of animals together in a single event.”
The collection numbers 60 clips—from parakeets, owls and koalas to kangaroos, elephants and giraffes, and three mythical creatures: Pegasus, a phoenix and a unicorn. They are all one-off pieces, and the exhibition showcases 41 of them.
Browse the slideshow:
“We were determined to provide a memorable experience even to those who are not necessarily fond of jewellery, or even those who haven’t stepped into our boutique,” says Bos.
He says the decision to open the exhibition to the public fits with the spirit of the maison’s L’École jewellery school, which provides hands-on courses for people interested in becoming “enlightened amateurs”, as well as creative workshops for children.
“We are extremely proud of what we do here, and we are very keen to share it with as big an audience as possible,” says Bos. “The identity of Van Cleef & Arpels is as much based on creation as it is on transmission, and I believe that opening up this exhibition to the public reinforces that philosophy.”
Read the full article in the March 2017 issue of Hong Kong Tatler
Van Cleef & Arpels' L’Arche de Noé exhibition runs from March 10 to 26 at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center. Book your visit at vcaarchedenoe.hk.