Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cracking the Egg

The finest achievement of Faberge's craftsman were their incomparable translucent guilloche enamels, inspired by French objects of art.


As far as I'm concerned, that one sentence from the exhibit explains why it's so hard for me to see the pieces in "Faberge Revealed" as art.

Oh, they're beautiful. Skilled Faberge craftsmen used painstaking techniques to craft some of the most beautiful objects ever made for a tiny group of incredibly wealthy people.

But they took their inspiration from art. They were making objects for sale. Faberge is all about stuff.

And because I'm not much of a "stuff" person, I wasn't fawning over the pieces in the exhibit.

The objects that captured my attention were so ostentatious, so over the top, that I found it difficult to focus on anything but that.

An opulent silver caviar dish over a foot long and shaped like a sturgeon (teeth and all!) with a well to hold an obscene amount of caviar was the definition of flamboyance.

The show is full of cigarette cases, parasol handles, sweetmeat boxes, cane handles (all made with colored golds, precious gems and enamels) and other accoutrements of the rich.

A dessert cutlery set included such things as sweetmeat forks in two sizes, sliced fruit forks, pastry slicers, a pie spade and two lemon squeezers.

Sounds like I would have loved going for dessert at the Tsar's house.

In other examples of over-the-top excess, there was a match striker (two-colored gold, Cabochon sapphire and enamel), a match safe (even smaller, just as showy) and a bookmark (diamonds and gold).

Leaving the exhibit we passed through the gift shop where an employee wore a tiara. How appropriate.

Afterwards, my friends and I discussed what we'd just seen and a couple of things became clear.

The show has hundreds of objects, so plan to see it in smaller bites so that museum fatigue doesn't set in. The objects are small and there's a lot of fascinating stuff worth reading. A lot.

And, truth be told, some people appreciate "stuff" more than others. My friend loves to shop and loves collecting things.

I hate to shop and although I do love buying local art, I eschew "stuff." So we could see where the show had much more appeal for him than it did for me.

My appreciation of the beauty of the pieces was marred by the sense that it was a) a business venture and b)  intended only for a tiny percentage of people ever to see or experience.

Ironically now much of it is in museums for even the lowliest people to see, enjoy or disdain, so the ultimate joke is on Faberge.

But you won't know how Faberge moves you until you take the time to see the show.

And even if you think you already know, everyone needs to see a jewel-encrusted match safe before they die.

Tiara-wearing is optional.

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