In the art world, jewelry has always been--well an adornment and surveys of art history wear it very sparingly, if at all. It is found more often at craft fairs and boutiques than in established galleries, and while the very rich may drop the names of jewelers into conversation, they aren't as likely to show up in any of the major art publications.
Looking at Anika Smulovitz's work you may begin to wonder why that is. Why is an art form as universally understood, culturally significant and historically grounded as adornment being given such short attention in the world of art?
Born in Eugene, Oregon, Smulovitz is a first generation American. She began her education at the University of Oregon as a business major, but soon realized art, and specifically art metals, was what interested her. After finishing her B.F.A. at University of Oregon she went to Madison, Wisconsin, and earned an M.A. and M.F.A. in studio arts. She has received scholarships and grants from the Women's Jewelry Association, the Society of Midwest Metalsmiths, the Albert K. Murray Fine Arts Education Fund and the Glenn Allen Scholarship from the School of Education. Her work was included in the book Art Jewelry Today and will also be included in the upcoming 1000 Rings. Beginning in Fall 2003, Smulovitz joined Boise State University as an assistant professor in metals/sculpture and she is currently president of the newly reestablished Idaho Metal Arts Guild.
As an artist Smulovitz is interested in the metal arts and adornment both in their traditional sense and in the potential they may have as contemporary statements. In her words, "The metals field has a vast history that, since the time of antiquity, has dealt with concepts of power, beauty, religion and cultural values. From the earliest moments of self-awareness humans have adorned themselves and been fascinated by materials and objects. This history has a wealth of objects that can be adapted, revived, and utilized in innovative ways to bring new insight to the discourse between material culture and contemporary society. As a maker I feel responsible to help promote this relatively new approach and understanding of the art metals field by making work that draws from the rich history of the field and addresses contemporary issues."
In her series Keys she stays inside the traditional notions of adornment as a means of significant form and technical perfection. In these pieces she is clearly indulging a love of craftsmanship, an appreciation for the intricacies of natural forms and a desire to create meaning through metaphor. Using a skillful combination of artistry and traditional symbolism Keys explores ideas ranging from aging to sentimentality to the loss of innocence. And while they may touch on the very popular topic of gender they do so in a traditional manner that comes across as more an example of humanism than feminism.
She is, however, also using her skills and concerns as a jewelry maker and metals artist in a direction that typifies contemporary art. While the work in her Keys series uses adornments as legitimate forms for meaning and metaphorical expression, the work in her series Collars, based on the white collars of men's Oxford shirts, takes a more critical approach. Metaphorical meaning has been replaced by social comment. Adornment as a legitimate form has been replaced by its deconstruction and experimental reconstruction. The subject matter is loaded with winks and nods in the direction of class, gender and status. These issues have a kind of omniscient choreography in the contemporary art scene, so it is hard to tell if the work is really exploring them or if they're just in the air. Less critical, but possibly more exploratory, is the work from her series Lip Liners. These pieces exemplify what she refers to as, "unique body adornment." As jewelry they rest comfortably in the crease created by a person's lips when the mouth is in a relaxed pose. The pieces are custom fit and the result is a minimal, highly personal piece of adornment that draws attention to those most expressive signifiers, the lips.
I'll give Smulovitz the last word: "Through the diversity of the areas that I pursue in my research and creative endeavors, I have found a way to balance my desire to hold onto the past, working within this rich tradition, while also pursuing my desire to push forward by creating new forms, objects and adornment."