How Does Your Garden Grow? In This Exhibition, Dazzlingly Bright

·2-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo credit: Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels


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In a hotel particulier off Paris’s Place Vendôme lies an unlikely garden in full bloom, even as summer becomes autumn. It helps that the blossoms in question have petals of emerald, ruby, chrysoprase, sapphire, diamond, and other gems, each bobbing atop stems and leaves made of precious metals. “Florae,” an exhibition of archival jewelry from Van Cleef & Arpels, takes the botanical world as its inspiration—with added help from large-format, psychedelic works by the Japanese photographer Mika Ninagawa.

Photo credit: Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo credit: Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels

“Florae” marks the second collaboration for Van Cleef and Ninagawa, who previously joined forces on a Tokyo show called “Enchanting Nature.” Here, as with the prior exhibition, Ninagawa paired her color-drenched images with pieces from the Van Cleef archives—like a 1924 bracelet or an elaborate choker from the 1950s. But this fall’s presentation is the first time the 115-year-old jewelry house has asked a contemporary architect to join the team. With the encouragement of Ninagawa, Van Cleef tapped Paris-based architect Tsuyoshi Tane, who modeled his exhibition design for “Florae” after both the tessellated fields of color seen in a kaleidoscope and the mazelike forms of classical French gardens.

“I had a lot of trust in [Tane] to start with,” says Ninagawa, explaining that the two, longtime friends, often shared creative feedback. For this project, the first on which they’d worked together, they found common ground in the theme of “envelopment” and the desire to create an immersive installation, says Ninagawa.

Photo credit: Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo credit: Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels

Visitors can indeed expect a cocoonlike visual experience: Ninagawa’s photographs—in vivid shades of orange, pink, red, blue, and more—are projected onto the floor and beamed out by wall-height screens throughout the show. The screens, placed strategically by Tane, are complemented by mirrors that refract and multiply the images. As such, Ninagawa’s photographs become architectural elements in the space, explains Tane.

Visitors can also anticipate a thorough lesson on changing tastes and techniques in jewelry design in the 20th century, with an exhibition organized in three segments focused on naturalism, figuration, and abstraction. Pieces, grouped with like items and displayed in freestanding glass vitrines, come complete with dates of origin and intel on the gems on view.

“Florae,” on view through November 14, is free to the public with an online reservation, a decision the jewelry company considered carefully. According to Van Cleef president and CEO Nicolas Bos, “We wanted to open the world of jewelry to the widest possible audience.” In doing so, Van Cleef has created a secret garden, open to all.

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