Last Saturday, the Clark Art Institute welcomed the work of Gerda and Nikolai Monies, collectively known as the Danish company “Monies,” in a new one-day jewelry trunk show. Although luxury jewelry items remain closely associated with excess and ostentatious displays of wealth, the trunk show attempted to reframe them within an artistic context and examine jewelry for its aesthetic value.
Monies began in 1973 when husband and wife Gerda and Nikolai Monies began to work together to create unique and flamboyant pieces of jewelry that earned them the growing reputation that precedes them today. The two have training as goldsmiths and jewelers and have been studying, training and creating together for the past 40 years. Today, their handcrafted jewelry is designed and produced in their workshop by the Copenhagen harbor, where Monies is always looking to find new designs and creative projects. In the past, Monies has collaborated with fashion brands to create unique collections and has more recently begun to focus on building its own unique brand.
Recently, Monies had a retrospective exhibition of its works at the Danish Museum of Art and Design, also known as the Kunstindustri Museum. Over the years, the couple’s work has been a part of many exhibitions and shows all over the world. Today, Monies sells its jewelry internationally, not only in its native Denmark, but in stores in Rome, Milan, Istanbul, Paris and across the United States. Since opening up a shop on Rue Saint Honoré in Paris, Monies has opened up several more boutiques and is looking to expand further in the future.
While Monies prides itself with eye-catching shapes, it is certainly not ostentatious. Working in a limited palette consisting largely of blacks, greys, whites and golds, Monies creates dramatic shapes that are at once overwhelming and whimsical. Some of these include oversized chain-link necklaces, bold, blocky bangles and earrings of round, giant black and gold beads. With large, chunky shapes and elegant, natural materials, Monies makes juxtaposition a central aspect of its work. On its site, the company describes its works as celebrating “elegance, avant-garde and humour.” It takes inspiration from a variety of sources, some of which being philosophically contradictory: equally employing a gold coating reminiscent of art deco and simple geometric forms that hail to the rise of modernism. With a distinct retro-futuristic charm, Monies departs from the highly contrived aesthetic of mainstream jewelry. Instead of taking precious metals and shaping them into facsimiles of natural forms, the jeweler takes natural materials and arranges them in highly artificial orderings. I was reminded of the thick-beaded necklaces so popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Another clear source of inspiration is that of the materials themselves. Using animal components such as leather, horn and bone, Monies celebrates and emphasizes the natural materials that go into creating these pieces. The kitschy maximalist aesthetics of Monies’s jewelry are so beautifully captured in the mediums it works in, as it uses the material to elevate its pieces while simultaneously referencing back to the humble creations of nature. These materials come from a variety of sources and include unusual materials such as petrified wood, fossils, semi-precious stones, shells, coconut, amber, coral, cow horn, copper, seeds, stones and various metals. All of these serve to set Monies apart from others, not only in its uniquely proportioned designs, but in its respect for the materials as well. Rendering natural components into geometric accumulations of chain links, beads and discs, the jeweler possesses an ethos of deeply valuing its source material while simultaneously highlighting its natural beauty through highly unnatural forms.
Even for those not particularly interested in jewelry, the Monies show is proof of not only the validity of jewelry as an art form, but moreover that one need not be interested in an art form to appreciate the beauty of its simple craft.
Danish jeweler, Monies, uses natural materials to craft its chunky, iconically shaped jewelry. Janeth Rodriguez/Photo Editor