8 Questions for Elisabetta Cipriani

Gallery Spotlight Elisabetta Cipriani

By Anna Carnick

As a child, gallerist Elisabetta Cipriani loved to play dress-up with her mother and grandmother’s jewelry. Looking back, she recalls that beyond their alluring sparkle and shine, she was most captivated by the stories behind the pieces—where did they come from and how were they made? That girlhood fascination stuck with her, and today, Cipriani’s eponymous gallery plays on that early passion by inviting an eclectic roster of renowned artists from around the world to create their very first jewelry designs.

By commissioning artists to experiment and work outside their traditional areas of expertise, Cipriani propels and enriches the larger story of contemporary jewelry design each and every day. The gallery launched in London in 2009, and has already collaborated on unique and limited-edition jewelry pieces with an impressive artist list that includes the likes of Tom Sachs, Atelier Van Lieshout, Giuseppe Penone, and Tatsuo Miyajima.

Cipriani sat down to discuss the path that led her to the gallery world, the joys and process behind her collaborations, and the gallery’s latest project: a cooperative, ten-day show with Paris-based Galerie MiniMasterpiece. The galleries have joined forces for two simultaneous shows—running February 6-15th in Paris and London—that will between them showcase nearly 50 commissioned jewelry pieces, all exhibited for the very first time in their respective host cities.


Anna Carnick: Where does your passion for wearable sculpture come from? And what is the first piece of jewelry you remember being really enamored by?

Elisabetta Cipriani: Since I was a child, I have had a passion for jewelry. My mother and my grandmother used to wear beautiful traditional jewelry—often on special occasions—and I remember admiring and trying their pieces on. I was curious to know where they came from, who used to wear them, and how they were realized. My dream was to one day make my own jewelry, but I put this dream to the side and started studying art history.

I want to present a different perspective on the arts.

I worked for The Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, and while I was there I organized eleven exhibitions of the most established living sculptors and painters. I loved being a part of the artists’ world; somehow, they have a deeper understanding of life, and I learned a lot from them.

In 2009, the year my daughter was born and the gallery formally opened, I embarked on a new dream. I’d seen artists’ jewelry by Alexander Calder, Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and others, and I believed that commissioning living visual artists to create jewelry would appeal not just to me, but also to the artist, to people who admired those artists for previous works, and to people who loved jewelry.

The first piece of jewelry I ever fell in love with was designed by the Italian artist Luciano Fabro. It was a 1974 gold pendant representing Italy; the whole piece was moving. It was called Confitalia, and it was like a work of art.

AC: What was the original motivation behind establishing your gallery? And why work specifically with artists, rather than traditional jewelry designers?

EC: I established my gallery because I want to present a different perspective on the arts and allow people to wear an exclusive, special jewel made by a visual artist. While these pieces are made with precious metals and stones they are not like ordinary jewelry. These jewels gather the same strength, poetics, and sometimes provocation of the artist’s work.

AC: Your gallery turns five this year. Any favorite moments from the first five years you can share?

EC: Every moment I spend with the artists are my favorite, but I also love the time spent with collectors building special collections.

AC: How do you select the artists with whom you collaborate?

EC: I must believe that the jewelry they will realize will not only be beautiful, but will also have meaning.

AC: What parameters or guidelines do you use when commissioning new pieces?

EC: The pieces are done in very limited editions or uniquely. Once they are sold out, I’d rather stop producing and maintain the exclusivity.

AC: What can you tell us about the collaborative process?

EC: The project is open. Unless I am asked for advice, I never intervene in the design or selection of metals or stones. The only directive I give is that the final design needs to be wearable.  Collectors are always looking for something different, something that has a story.

AC: If you had to choose, what has been your most rewarding jewelry commission to date?

EC: All of the jewelry collaborations have been rewarding. It is such a joy to see these pieces worn or displayed in museums’ collections. I was very pleased when Giuseppe Penone’s Foglia necklace was both selected as the Fine Art Prize at PAD Paris in 2011 and went into the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

AC: The gallery is partnering with Galerie MiniMasterpiece on a pair of exhibitions this month. What can you tell us about the shows specifically, and, more generally, about the benefits of collaborating with other gallerists in your arena?

EC: The exhibition Selected Jewels from Paris/London was designed to give people living in London and Paris the opportunity to view the jewelry that has been commissioned by both Galerie MiniMasterpiece and my gallery; all the included pieces, have been designed by international visual artists and designers. The selected pieces of jewelry—in total, there are 24 in London and 24 in Paris—have never been shown in another commercial gallery. Some of these pieces have been presented in such museum exhibitions as the wonderful itinerant show From Picasso to Koons, the Artist as Jeweler curated by Diane Venet and currently on view at the Seoul Arts Centre.

The world of jewelry made by famous artists is very exclusive and unique. Collectors are always looking for something different; something that has a story. We have therefore decided to join forces to gather a strong selection of pieces that have never been shown in the two cities.

Among others, I am thrilled to present the exquisite silver earrings by the famous Korean artist Lee Ufan, whose work focuses on the dot and the line. A follower of the Mono-ha concept, he uses both materials made by humans (like metals) and raw materials (like stones) in his installations. Once the earrings are worn, they come to life and look very sculptural. Additionally, Bernar Venet, a French sculptor whose work is exhibited all over the world, has made a ring and a brooch in a limited edition of eight. The ring 6 Arcs in Disorder follows the expression of his monumental sculptures, whose lines became the support of all his demonstrations. And Barthélémy Toguo, a multimedia artist from Cameroon, is presenting his first jewelry design, Carpe Diem, which is inspired by his monumental wood “stamp” sculptures and linked to questions of identity and control—often the subject of his work.

In Paris, MiniMasterpiece will present jewelry by artists I collaborate with, including Rebecca Horn, Jannis Kounellis, Enrico Castellani, Kendell Geers, Tatsuo Miyajima, Carlos Cruz Diez, Giorgio Vigna, Atelier van Lieshout, and others.

  • Text and interview by

    • Anna Carnick

      Anna Carnick

      Anna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.