There’s some extra bling at Cartier’s new Hudson Yards store this fall, but this time it comes in the form of a large-scale artwork. Featuring a cornucopia of glittering Cartier stones, Aquarium, a colorful mobile-like sculpture conceived by Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes, hangs from the ceiling and greets visitors upon entry.
Given the quantity of precious stones she worked with, Milhazes was sometimes required to work inside Cartier’s Zurich-based vault, where they are kept. The artist spoke about the experience before an audience at New York’s Morgan Library and Museum on the occasion of the work’s installation, and explained that many of the gems were not, in fact, destined for necklaces or earrings, but, rather, for art.
“It often happens that some stones are left aside and not used by jewelers because their shape or color is not perfect enough,” Cartier chief executive Cyrille Vigneron explained in a statement. “However, these stones keep all their energy, beauty, and evocative power.
Milhazes, who designed the installation, which was crafted by artisans at the Ateliers Cartier, was tapped as one of the first artists to participate in the jewelry house’s “Artist Meets Artisan” project, which was founded 10 years ago and seeks to give a second life to unused stones.
The work’s presentation at Hudson Yards is curated by the brand’s Paris museum, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, and marks the first time that any of the “Artist Meets Artisan” presentations have been shown in New York.
When she received the invitation from Cartier a decade ago, Milhazes had never worked in sculpture, but she had dabbled in set design, creating a massive beaded curtain for a dance production for her sister, choreographer Márcia Milhazes. The Cartier project allowed the artist to translate her colorful geometric paintings into three-dimensional form.
“The idea was to have something between a chandelier and a mobile,” Milhazes told artnet News.
Years later, for her 2015 solo show at her New York gallery, James Cohan, Milhazes’s experience creating Aquarium was part of the inspiration for two beaded hanging works. They were the first sculptures the artist had ever made independent of Cartier, and featured humble materials such as acrylic, aluminum, stainless steel, and polyester and paper flowers.
By contrast, the cheerfully colorful appearance of the finished Cartier piece is made from precious metals, silver, and brass, and adorned with thousands of stones, including diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, aquamarines, garnets, onyx, and four different types of quartz.
Many of the stones are carved and sourced from Cartier’s Tutti Frutti line, a classic Art Deco style of bright green, blue, and magenta jewels in the shapes of leaves, berries, and flowers inspired by India’s extravagant Mughal gem-carving tradition.
“I felt a little guilty because I wasn’t respecting the individuality of the stones,” Milhazes admitted. “I was putting them together to make one field.”
She also learned a lot working with these new materials and the Cartier artisans. “The colors of the stones are very different than paints or ceramics. You need to have natural light to understand the movement of the color inside the stones.”