Arts / Culture

An exclusive look inside ‘Cartier, Crystallization of Time’ – a new exhibition co-curated by Hiroshi Sugimoto

When I walk into the new exhibition Cartier, Crystallization of Time at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), a major architectural landmark in the city of Seoul, I am fresh off the plane from Sydney and buzzing from the sights and smells of arriving in a new city. But then I’m plunged into darkness, and I could be anywhere in space and time.

“That's exactly what Sugimoto wanted,” says Pierre Rainero, the Image, Style and Heritage Director at Cartier. “You come in and it’s a complete reset. You forget what has happened to you outside the building and become lost in time and in art.”

Rainero is talking about the photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto who, alongside the architect Tomoyuki Sakakida, co-curated the exhibition through their architectural design office, New Material Research Laboratory.

Sugimoto is a towering figure in the art world, and an intriguing choice to curate an exhibition of close to 300 pieces of jewellery and timepieces, including heritage works from the Cartier Collection and contemporary pieces from private collections. The result is an exhibition unique in its scenography and sensory immersion.


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“Jewellery, as seen by Cartier, is a strong artistic expression,” Rainero continues. “And this type of exhibition, for me, is key, because it helps the public to understand that.”

The exhibition is split into three chapters – Material Transformation and Colors, Forms and Designs, and Universal Curiosity – all of which explore the themes of permanence and change.

The exhibition is not chronological, rather the pieces are grouped together based on what connects them, or sets them apart.

After being plunged into darkness, viewers are confronted by a towering artwork by Sugimoto — a large clock dating back to 1908 which has been engineered by the artist to move backwards. The idea of time is a central theme for Sugimoto and is the thread that winds through the exhibition, ultimately tying it all together.

In the first chapter, necklaces are displayed on hand-carved busts made out of wood dating back two thousand years, imbuing the works with an extra layer of drama and history. In addition, many of the pieces show signs of age and wear – 50 pieces are on loan from private collections – displaying that many are works of art that belong to somebody, and have lived a life of their own.

“I think a piece of jewellery is really alive when it has been worn,” Rainero tells me. “Some of the pieces are totally unknown because we present them once to our client at the occasion of a new collection, and then they disappear. It’s a great opportunity to see them. I think of a particular Tutti Frutti necklace… Just this piece for me is a good reason to come and see the exhibition.”

In the second chapter, a vast room is separated by walls of tuff – a stone made out of ancient undersea volcanic rock.

On choosing this design Sakakida writes, “the visitor gets a sense of being led

through a deep and bewildering cave; the rare precious stones—dense and pure diamonds, emeralds and so on—are the polar opposite of the rustic and porous tuff, meaning that each sets off the other to maximum advantage.”

The third chapter showcases the influence of different cultures, specifically East Asia, India, the Middle East, Africa, and Central America, with pieces inspired by the flora and fauna of these places. It’s a menagerie of bejewelled animals — sleeping tigers, snakes coiled into neck-hugging pendants, and the iconic panthère, which, since it first appeared on a wristwatch in 1914, has been used by Cartier to represent the liberation of women in a new age.

Each of the exhibition chapters is punctuated by what Sugimoto calls a Treasure Window – installations which combine artefacts from the artist’s private collection with heritage Cartier pieces, and his own photography.

“It’s like a piece of theatre,” Rainero says.

Cartier, Crystallization of Time runs to June 30th at Seoul DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza).


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