This article is brought to you by L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts.
Housed in a luminous space designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, the third exhibition of L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific, School of Jewelry Arts captures the way gold has enthralled the world for millennia. With 55 gold jewellery pieces and ornaments from the Mengdiexuan Collection of Betty Lo and Kenneth Chu, The Art of Gold takes viewers on a journey through the history and geography of jewellery along the ancient Silk Road.
Although gold jewellery is rooted in the cultures of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it came to China between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, when artisans traversed the same routes as Silk Road merchants. Some of the earliest artefacts from northern China, such as a hammered gold collar and a crown, show the distinct influence of the nomadic Scythian people, famed for their gold and their horses, who swept across Central Asia to the shores of the Black Sea. By the time China was unified under the Qin and Han dynasties, gold’s status as the embodiment of wealth and power—as well as superlative ornamentation—was assured.
Betty Lo and Kenneth Chu began collecting precious objects more than 30 years ago from their office on Hollywood Road, one of Hong Kong’s oldest streets and still famed for its antique shops. When they received the gift of a bronze mirror for a wedding anniversary, they began collecting ritual bronzes before their interest evolved to include gold and other precious metal ornaments.
“We did not go on a treasure hunt,” says Kenneth. They were attracted instead by the creativity of how people wore these beautiful objects. In bringing their collection together, they looked at the beauty, authenticity and condition of each material. “Collecting is all about connoisseurship. You need to tell that this piece is genuine, and you need to have the taste to make sure that it meets the aesthetic value of a certain standard, before you want to invest in them or to collect them.”
Lo and Chu work closely with scholars and use exhibitions like this one as a learning experience. This will be their ninth gallery show since 1990; their exhibitions have traveled across mainland China and around the world. The Mengdiexuan Collection—“Butterfly Dream Studio” in Mandarin—was named for an episode from the Daoist literary classic Zhuangzi about the transience of life.
L’ÉCOLE, since founding its School of Jewelry Arts in Paris in 2012, supported by High Jewelry Maison Van Cleef & Arpels, has sought to build an inclusive culture around the concept of craftsmanship or savoir-faire. Its three successful nomadic editions before the official launch of its Hong Kong school at K11 MUSEA in 2019 have featured courses, videos, books, talks and exhibitions about the art history of jewellery making, the universe of gemstones and hands-on introductory workshops to jewellery making.
In The Art of Gold, the emphasis on craft also becomes an exploration of how four specific techniques of goldsmithing made their way from West to East: hammering and chasing, casting, wire and filigree, and granulation. It starts with discovery of the geological aspects of gold, a crystal, although rarely seen in that form. The sweep of the Mengdiexuan Collection, from the late Shang Dynasty, around 1600 BCE, to the Ming Dynasty, from 1368 to 1644, encompasses the evolution of gold from exotic import to a central place in Chinese civilisation.
The Art of Gold runs from 26 March to 29 August 2021 at L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts, Unit 510A,
5F, K11 MUSEA, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, HONG KONG. For more information, please visit here.