Art Smith created large, dramatic jewelry, often kinetic. He claimed that his pieces, especially bracelets, earrings, and neckpieces, were “sculpture to wear,” not fully realized until they were on the body. He was influenced by contemporary art, in particular the mobiles and wire sculptures of Alexander Calder, and his work reflects the multi-cultural, progressive atmosphere of New York’s Greenwich Village in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. —Mark McDonald
A piece of jewelry is in a sense an object that is not complete in itself. Jewelry is a ‘what is it?’ until you relate it to the body. The body is a component in design just as air and space are. Like line, form, and color, the body is a material to work with. It is one of the basic inspirations in creating form.
The Founder of Mid-century Design
Mark McDonald has always been at the epicenter of the world that is mid-century design, to a large extent, it is a world he created. For over forty years, Mark has pioneered whole fields of collecting, providing the scholarship and creating the market for mid-century furniture, studio jewelry, ceramics and Italian glass.
In 1983, Mark opened Fifty/50 with partners Mark Isaacson and Ralph Cutler. This groundbreaking gallery defined collectors’ taste. At the time, modern works were still largely overlooked; Mark and his partners collected and presented the rarest and most interesting pieces, often working with the makers themselves, to create compelling exhibitions accompanied by catalogs documenting the work.
In the 1990s, Mark opened Gansevoort Gallery, where he continued to curate collections and exhibitions of lasting impact. Over the years, he established relationships with artists and their estates becoming the go to authority on the designs of Art Smith, Ilonka Karasz and Leza McVey, among others. His enthusiasm for the material extended beyond the gallery floor to the back room where lucky visitors got to flip through Mark’s impressive design reference library and discuss the importance of works with him.
A connoisseur and wealth of knowledge, Mark became a resource for prominent collections across the globe—private and public alike. He inspired a generation of collectors and dealers introducing designers and their production to an audience that continues to grow. In 2002, Mark closed Gansevoort and established 330 gallery in Hudson, New York. Now, semi-retired, Marks splits his time between New York and Florida. He still collects, curates, supports, and shepherds the scholarship of mid-century design.
Art Smith was one of the most admired mid-century jewelry designers, bringing sophistication and drama to large-scale works made for everyday-wear. As virtually the only prominent African-American jewelry designer of the era, Smith kept a studio and showroom (with only two assistants) in the bohemian Greenwich Village for thirty-three years.
Arthur "Art" Smith was born in Cuba in 1917 to Jamaican parents and the family permanently settled in Brooklyn in 1920. Smith studied commercial art and sculpture at Cooper Union under a scholarship, graduating in 1940. He took an evening jewelry course with Winifred Mason, an African-American jewelry designer (regarded as the first, to work on a commercial scale) who became a major influence and mentor to Smith. Instead of gold and silver, she worked primarily in copper and used motifs from West Indian culture and folk art.
Smith apprenticed under Mason at her shop and studio in Greenwich Village for several years and in 1946, Smith opened his own shop. Early years were difficult for Smith, as an openly gay black man, and his shop was the target of vandalism and break-ins. Despite these hardships, he quickly made a name for himself in the downtown bohemian arts community with his stunning, sensual jewelry, that was sensitive to the movement of the body. He was close to and made works for luminaries such as Lena Horne and Duke Ellington. He also created commissions for modern dance companies run by choreographers including Talley Beatty and Claude Marchant.
By the mid-1950s, Smith's designs were carried by Bloomingdale's and boutiques across the country and they regularly appeared in Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. During this time, he was creating smaller works, on a larger production scale, such as stylish earrings, cufflinks and rings in sterling silver and gold that incorporated attractive stones.
In 1970, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York (now the Museum of Arts and Design) held a retrospective celebrating Smith's work. Due to declining health after a heart attack, Smith was less produgious in the later part of his life; his shop closed in 1979 and he passed away in 1982. He was honored with another retrospective at the Jamaica Arts Center, Queens in 1990, curated by the African-American artist and filmmaker Camille Billops, and the Brooklyn Museum held the show From the Village to Vogue in 2008, highlighting Smith's momentous contribution to the medium.
Auction Results Art Smith