A woman can be beautiful but have no sex appeal, just as a jewel can be precious but lack that element—a conceptual element—which presents itself as a charge of poetry, and as such refers back to the dimensions dream and eroticism. One could say that the entirety of the work of Marcel Duchamp reflects the importance of these two factors. First of all, the work of art must appeal to the mind: ‘I am tired’, remarked the father of contemporary art, ‘of purely ‘retinal’ painting’. He was then to add: ‘eroticism is highly important for me, and I have always used it in my work’.
GianCarlo Montebello—and this is his greatest merit—has known how to place his enormous talent at the service of a conceptual experience is marked by dream, sensuality and seduction. The stunning conjunction of these various elements results in the birth of works of art of rare visual quality, since they are inspired and therefore poetic.
We know that Duchamp, with his ready-mades, fostered the rediscovery of the beauty of common objects. But one often forgets that he undertook no easy feat, and that his requalification of the object was in fact dependent on the satisfaction of three quite rigorous conditions. First of all, the object chosen must be decontextualized, or, as Max Ernst said, ‘displaced’, and this implies a reversal of the slant from it’s seen. This factor can also be found in physics, where Heisenberg, after Einstein, declared the importance of the observer’s point of view. Typical examples: Bicycle Wheel (1913), mounted on a kitchen stool; or Fountain (1917), the urinal reclining on its back; or, again, In Advance of the Broken Arm (1915), a snow shovel suspended from the ceiling. The second condition was to give the object a ‘verbal colour’, in the form of a title. The third, evanescent and enigmatic, required that the discovery of the common object to be raised to the rank of a work of art had to result from an ‘appointment’ between the artist and whatever that still to be determined object might be.
GianCarlo Montebello finds inspiration in Duchamp’s example while inventing new rules that permit him to endow a common object with the beauty of a jewel. First of all there’s the possibility of remaining faithful to the shapes and forms of his model, while transforming its materials: iron becomes gold, clay and ceramics turn into pearl or rock crystal, glass into diamond, plastic into coral or precious stone.
Kathmandu 1992, ph. Fabrizio Pallotti
ASOLA I bracelet 1985, from Bradamante
ph. Paolo Castaldi
At other times, the object’s materials are the source of inspiration, and ring through innumerable variations, as in the case of the medieval chain mail which have given birth to jewels in stainless steel, silver, and gold. In addition to transforming materials, Montebello also succeeds—and with equal lightness of touch—in maintaining an object’s original functions while giving it greater nobility. For example: Stringa (‘Lace’, 1997), in lengths of 90, 150 and 170 centimetres, with versions in red polymer and also in silver, tipped in yellow gold. Or, again, we have the work called Ago, or Needle, fashioned in gold and dangling various colours of thread. At other times, a ready-made material (like chain mail) forays out into a bracelet, collar or scarf, as in Bracciale(‘Bracelet’, 1985), in stainless steel and gold, and fitted with buttons and button holes in other precious materials. Another variation is closed by an ordinary fastening snap, as might be found in any sewing goods store, but here in pure gold. A similar work, called Serranda, is made of yellow gold with a spray of diamonds. Then there are necklaces in the same steel mesh material, but enriched with details in gold or rock crystal; and Bradamante, the scarf in stainless steel and yellow gold, with encapsulated pearls, 110 centimetres long. Montebello’s lightness of touch, has been mentioned and here the paradigmatic example comes from Man Ray, with whom Montebello collaborated for quite some time (from 1970 to 1976, when the illustrious artist took leave of us). Montebello remarks, in summation of the lesson he learned from Man Ray: ‘He taught me the simplicity of things’. A collector was once surprised by the price Picasso asked for a drawing. ‘But how long’, he asked, ‘did it take you to do that?’ The instantaneous reply: ‘About a minute, plus fifty years’. Montebello’s modus operandi likewise has a long and varied past behind it.
Everything began in 1958, when he was seventeen years old. And from 1967 to 1978—eleven years—he concentrated on the making of editions of artists’ jewels. He thus came to work with some of the major protagonists of contemporary art, in addition to Man Ray. He produced jewels by Arman, César, Sonia Delaunay, Piero Dorazio, Lucio Fontana, Allen Jones, Meret Oppenheim, Arnaldo and Giò Pomodoro, Hans Richter, Larry Rivers and Niki de Saint Phalle, as well as by numerous others.
In 1978, Montebello was the victim of a theft in which he lost his whole collection. As an enlightened follower of Duchamp and Man Ray, he accepted this event as a sign of destiny, and decided henceforth to work almost entirely with jewels of his own design. This didn’t however, prevent him from accepting important commissions and positions. In 1985, he created a silver service for an important company in Japan. In the following year, he designed a series of pins in glass and gold wire for a manifestation, sponsored by the Coin department stores in Venice, that explored the possibilities of the art of glass blowing as practiced on the island of Murano. In 1992 he designed a series of blown-glass chandeliers for Auras in Mestre, as well as a silver tableware service produced by Sawaia & Moroni.
These widely ranging activities weren’t, however, to prevent him from taking part in the founding of the Department of Jewelry at the European Institute of Design, in Milan, where he taught for two years, from 1984 to 1986. And in 1987, he collaborated with the Société des Amis du Musée National d’Art Moderne—Centre d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, as the curator in charge of the realization of jewels and objects.
GianCarlo Montebello has also taken part in some of the most prestigious international exhibitions, two of the most recent ones were held at New York’s Guggenheim Museum (The Italian Metamorphosis, 1993–94, curated by Germano Celant) and at London’s Craft Council Gallery (New Times, New Thinking: Jewellery in Europe and America, 1995–96, curated by Ralph Turner).
More vital than ever, Montebello continues to develop an activity that exalts the mystery and fascination of creation’s most beautiful work of art: Woman.

Arturo Schwarz
July 2001

Translation from Italian
by Henry Martin