Glimmer of Light

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Albert Einstein once said, “Light is the measure of all things.” Taking this belief to heart, seasoned theatre director and visual artist Robert Wilson starts off every project thinking about light: how it affects the illusion of space, the shadows it creates and the overall mood. Wilson’s distinct use of light has become his signature. Recently, he designed the scenography for Van Cleef & Arpels’ exhibition to present its High Jewelry collection, L’Arche de Noé. It will be open to the public from November 3–19 at Cedar Lake in New York’s Chelsea arts district.

The concept originated from Van Cleef & Arpels chief executive officer, Nicolas Bos, during a spontaneous visit to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It was there, in the institution’s East Pavilion, that a particular piece of art resonated with him. “I will never forget the shock I felt as I stood gazing at the painting The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark, and the journey it embarked me on at once,” said Bos. The piece, made with oil on panel in 1613 by Flemish painter Jan Brueghel the Elder, depicts the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.

Van Cleef & Arpels’ collection echoes the painting with added imagination. There are about 60 animal motif pairs, such as birds, butterflies and horses, featuring white gold, diamonds, sapphires and more. Creatures in playful, poetic interpretations have long been a source of inspiration for the Maison, which started in 1906 in Paris.

“My original idea was to have an enormous boat as a structure for the roof. I placed the jewel animals within, but somehow the idea seemed all wrong,” said Wilson, who chose a small boat, instead. He imagined the ark on a vast body of water and surrounded the room with televisions showing ocean waves in 360 degrees. “At intervals, I interrupt the calm with meditative music of Arvo Pärt or with a loud thunder, briefly. At this time, the room is made dark, and only the jewels are lit, as if they were a navigational chart.”

L’Arche de Noé marks Wilson’s first scenography design focused on jewelry. Although different, the step was organic, considering his similar creative approach in staging operas, plays and running the Watermill Center, a laboratory for the arts, where he is the founder and artistic director. Bos realized Wilson was the ideal person to lead the exhibition after witnessing his talent while staging Fairy Tales by Alexander Pushkin in Moscow. “Inspiration is everywhere: in a light beam, a vision, a melody, a painting, an encounter, a sky, a word, a laughter, a tear,” said Wilson.

“This scenography showcases our collection in subdued and mysterious tones,” said Bos. “I hope visitors will feel they had a true artistic experience with a sense of wonder and enchantment.” 


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