GianCarlo Montebello is the person who taught me to drink red wine while eating a prickly pear: he told me that the combination turns the taste of the wine into song. He’s one of very few people who know that the sense of taste can be the source of a musical experience. So, a discussion of his work might find its most suitable tack, perhaps, in terms of a discourse on the sense of taste. This carnal sense that finds its way, by way of the heart, from the mouth to the stomach can have a great deal to say about the ornaments with which he decks the body. The stomach, rather than the head, as Wilhelm Reich might tell us, is the organ with which we do best to grasp them, since they’re designed to cling to the body: to envelope, encircle, and bind it, knotting themselves around it, hiding in the creases of its skin, inserting themselves between its fingers, concealing themselves behind its ears. GianCarlo Montebello abandons himself to the sense of taste, savoring its nuances and seeking out new flavours which can then be transformed into ornaments. ‘Ornaments’ moreover, is the proper word, rather than ‘jewelry’—as he himself points out—since his projects, even while revealing a tie with both western and eastern tradition, and evoking both the distant and the recent past, belong more to design than to the art of the goldsmith. His projects are a question of design since they are always inventions. It’s not that as inventions they’re in any way forgetful of memory, or heedless of craftsmanship; it’s rather that they find their goal in a different relationship with the body. They’re inventions by virtue of reversing the traditional canons of aesthetics, by playing with possibilities of irony and exploring all possible materials, both noble and industrial, precious and poor, like the metal mesh of butchers’ gloves. They’re inventions by virtue of their decontextualizations, in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp.
GianCarlo Montebello 1991, Capri
Montebello’s projects seek out the truths of their underlying processes: the fiches that appear in his recent bracelets—fiches of cloudy crystal, white agate, lapis lazuli, rhodoid, or stainless steel—are tied together with an X-shaped seam of gold or of red polymer string. Rather than concealed, these linkages are revealed, and turned into a decorative motif. The fastening of his fluent bracelet in stainless steel chain mail that wraps around the wrist like a sheath—a garment more than a jewel, an intrinsic rather than external accessory—is a common snap, but in gold, and considerably oversized. Its fascination lies in its size, or in Montebello’s ostentation of this banal device from a haberdashery, normally destined to remained concealed inside the linings of things. The stratagem lies in the object’s decontextualization, no less than in its shift in materials: removed from its normal context and also cast in gold, the snap takes on new meanings, and advances to the status of a symbol of a new and different taste in ornamentation. Montebello’s task as a designer is to attempt to go to the roots of every problem. So here we have a string that takes the place of a gold chain which is often used in an invasive and vulgar way. To be wrapped around the neck, coiled around the arm, or knotted around the flanks, as might be done in a tribal culture, this string reveals the primordial origins of the art of self-decoration.
The first and original forms of vanity are in fact to be found in bondage and incisions on the skin. So, it’s nothing new, and we also do well to remember the delight with which children tie cords and rubber bands around their wrists. The novelty, here, lies in the details: the tags of the string are made of gold or silver. A shift in the materials with which it’s finished turn a common lace into something precious, giving it the full-fledged right, not simply as a matter of personal choice, to take on the role of an ornament. In Montebello’s work, poor materials are redeemed by acts of destabilization that suddenly make things precious. Rather than products of imagination, these precious details are objects of use, like the snap, transformed by the materials from which they’re made. Montebello’s jewelry doesn’t result from the dexterous use of punches and chisels, but rather from a game of constant invention that shifts the goldsmith’s craft toward design and art. Still, however, we’d do him an injustice by referring to his works as ‘artists’ jewels’ employing a term which has come to be synonymous with miniaturizations of artworks that too much continue to be sculptures, and too little turn into ornaments. Montebello’s jewels are true jewels, and we think of them as art because they spring from a process that lies adjacent to art, no less than because of the ways in which they scumble expectations. They are ornaments designed for the body, and have nothing to do with the miniaturization of works that adhere to any previous canon of style. Montebello creates his ornaments for the purpose of capturing the musicality of the sense of taste, and as such they appeal to fine palates that know the pleasures of genuine flavours and surprising combinations (like red wine and prickly pears) and which are therefore able to value an aesthetic which is much more tactile than visual, and intimately connected to the body rather than externally affixed to it.

Cristina Morozzi
Paris-Milan, December 31st 1988/1999