Esther de Beaucé has brought a different perspective to France’s art jewelry scene with her Galerie MiniMasterpiece. She works exclusively with fine artists, helping them get out of their comfort zones to create art on a smaller, wearable scale. She joined the Jewelry Journey podcast to talk about the artists she works with, her typical client and where she sees French art and avant-garde jewelry headed in the future. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Esther de Beaucé, speaking to us from Paris. Esther is the founder and owner of Galerie MiniMasterpiece, dedicated to the production and exhibition of jewelry by renowned French and international artists and designers. Today, she’ll tell us about the state of art jewelry and jewelry by artists in Paris. Esther, so glad to be talking with you.
Esther: Hello, Sharon, thank you very much for inviting me.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your jewelry journey. Did you like jewelry when you were young? How did you get to jewelry?
Esther: I came to jewelry through contemporary art, actually. My family, at the time, was involved in contemporary art as collectors and artists, so I was not very familiar with traditional jewelry. The first jewel I remember as I kid was a compression by a French artist, César that my mother was wearing. César was asking his friends to bring him family jewelry they were not wearing anymore, like old chains and sometimes diamonds, and he would compress them into a little rectangle, for instance, that would become a pendant. I remember asking my mother about this jewelry that was very unconventional and when she explained to me the piece of jewelry, I got worried, understanding that she had five or six jewels and now she had only one. That was very intriguing to me, but she seemed very happy. Later on, of course, I learned about César’s bigger sculptures and his other jewelry, so I understood better, but it’s the first jewel I remember, and it was made by an artist.
Sharon: That’s really interesting. It was an artist who happened to make jewelry that opened your eyes and introduced you to jewelry that stuck in your mind.
Esther: Yes, exactly, because I never saw my mother wearing traditional jewelry. She was very involved in art, so I was accustomed to living among sculptures and paintings and installation. She was not wearing any traditional jewelry, and then she acquired a few jewelry pieces by artist friends. She would make some exchanges as well, and she started building her own art jewelry collection, so I knew about this field that is not completely well-known, even today. I knew it as a kid, but it was my mother’s jewelry. At the time, I never knew that one day I would also be involved, but this is how it started. I was attracted to that type of jewelry.
Sharon: What gave you the idea for opening your own gallery showing jewelry made by artists?
Esther: My passion as a student was art and anthropology. When I was 25, I opened my first gallery in Paris that was called Schirman & de Beaucé. Schirman was a friend and we decided to open a gallery together, but it was not linked to jewelry. It was an art gallery presenting young artists’ work, video, drawings, sculptures, paintings, a bit of everything. We had that gallery for eight years. After eight years, it wasn’t doing so well, so I had to close that gallery. It was 2012 and at that time, I was asking myself what was important to me. I realized that the most important thing for me was to be next to artists and working with artists. Since I knew that story about artist jewelry, I started to look around to see what was going on in that field. I realized that in Paris, nobody was very active in the field of artist jewelry, whereas in London, for instance, there were galleries very much involved, in Germany as well as in Italy. But in France in 2012, nobody was really into it. I thought that for me, it could be a new way. I didn’t know much professionally about jewelry, but I knew how to work with artists. I knew how to produce art, how to show it. I thought, “Well, the scale is going to change drastically, but maybe it’s going be fun and I’m sure there’s a lot to do.” That’s how it started.
Sharon: I give you a lot of credit. I think anybody who opens a gallery of any sort is very brave. How did you come up with the name MiniMasterpiece?
Esther: I was talking with my husband and my parents trying to find a name that would speak for itself and was linked to art. I didn’t want to play with the name of jewelry; I wanted to be on the side of the art. Everybody knows what a masterpiece is, and minimasterpiece could be a small work of art, so that was the idea.
Sharon: Interesting. You’re surrounded by art everywhere in Paris, but at your location you’re surrounded by art and antique galleries. What was the reaction of people around you who owned traditional galleries? There are a lot of antique places around you. Did they say, “Oh my gosh, what’s she doing?”
Esther: I’ve been here seven years now. At first, people didn’t really understand what I was doing. This area where I am, as you said, is more concentrated on antiques and antiques stores, whereas a few streets down, on Rue de Seine or Rue Bonaparte, it’s more linked to contemporary art. I’m just a few blocks away from the contemporary art-centered area, but the Carré Rive Gauche, which is my neighborhood, is very particular and very unique in the world. In just a few streets, you have about 120 great specialists of so many different fields: Chinese ceramics, Islamic art, Italian Renaissance art, but also photo design. They are very unique experts, so in that geography, in a bizarre way, I also fit as another weird specialty. It worked out, and many of my clients also live in this area, so it was convenient to attract people and tourists. It’s a good area.
Sharon: So, the people who live in the area and purchase from you understand because they understand art. They’re looking at jewelry made by artists as opposed to jewelry, in a sense.
Esther: Yes, I have very different clients. It’s difficult to put them in one—
Sharon: Box or category.
Esther: Box, category, exactly. I would say a majority of them are involved in art. They are collectors. They know most of the artists I work with. Sometimes they have their work hanging on their walls. So, it is interesting to them to have a more intimate relationship with that artist they like so much and find a jewelry piece that comes in a small edition, or a unique piece they wear around their neck or their finger or their wrists. For them, it’s an intimate relationship, and they enjoy that very much. Another category of clients is art jewelry fans. They are interested in seeing new things, and they come and fall in love with an object not knowing at first who’s behind the jewelry. That’s also nice.
Sharon: You must have people across the board, including somebody like me, who just stumbled on the gallery. What’s the reaction of artists when you ask them to create a piece of jewelry specifically for your gallery? Do you get resistance? I’m sure it depends on the person, especially in the beginning. What is the reaction?
Esther: When I opened the gallery, they didn’t know about me. I had never made any jewelry pieces before, but because I grew up surrounded by artists, I knew a few. Among the few I knew was François Morellet, who passed away, but he was one of France’s most famous artists. He was the first one in 2012, when I opened the gallery, to accept working with me, and it was very generous of him to accept. He drew a very nice brooch that was also a necklace, and this is how I started. Of course, starting with a piece by François Morellet helped me tremendously, and then I was able to call up other artists saying, “Well, François Morellet, he had confidence in me and taught me to be confident,” and this is little by little how I started.
François Morellet had already made two pieces of jewelry, so he knew exactly the challenges of making a piece of jewelry. It’s not easy for them to change so drastically the scale of their work and to think that the small work of art has to be wearable. Even though sometimes they are very large, they have to be wearable, and that’s very important. I never present or sell a piece that would be too heavy or too uncomfortable or that would look ugly on a woman or a man. They have to follow a few important things and they have to think of a project that is not just simple production. It’s not only a matter of size. It’s not taking a large sculpture and just changing the scale. It’s thinking of a new project that makes sense for the artist within his broader works, because it’s not a produit d’arriver. It’s really another work of art. It’s smaller of course, but to me, a piece of jewelry is successful when the artist speaks of it as a jewel, but also as a sculpture. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Sharon: It makes a lot of sense. You have some pieces done by sculptors that I’ve seen in your gallery. I’ve seen them elsewhere and I’m wondering if these sculptors—have they become jewelers or do they still do sculpture? I don’t know their whole body of work.
Esther: A few artists I work with have that—they make the jewelry themselves. Like Calder, that amazing American artist. He was a sculptor, but he designed a full range of incredible objects and also hundreds and hundreds of pieces of jewelry, and he would do them himself. He was an artist and he was a sculptor, but he was also a jeweler, and I do have a few artists in that same category at the gallery. They know how to use gold or silver. Of course, it’s not the case with most artists I work with. In this case, I have the help of a goldsmith, but for a few of them like Foscardenelli—I could name a few—they have that double—
Sharon: They’re both artists and jewelers?
Esther: Yes, exactly, but they’re never only jewelers. That’s the difference between what I do and what other galleries in Paris do in terms of jewelry. My gallery is an invitation to those who usually never make jewelry or make a little, but it’s not their main work. The story of art jewelry—I mean, I did not come up with it. It’s Picasso, its Giacometti in the beginning of the 20th century who started on the side of their regular work to make a few pieces of wearable art. I’m just continuing that tradition with contemporary artists from France and abroad, but what I like about it is that it’s a journey. They have to sortir de la raison de confort, as we say in French.
Sharon: Their comfort zone.
Esther: Exactly. They have to bring into that new small project, the DNA of their more monumental work. Sometimes when you know an artist well and you see his jewelry, you’re capable of saying, “Oh, that’s jewelry by François Morellet,” because you feel and recognize his work, whereas jewelers—and I’m fond of many jewelers on a personal level, not for the gallery, but for myself. I’ve found great jewelers, but I do not work with them because they are specialists. They only make jewelry. I like to go back and forth between sculptures and jewelry and see how difficult it is. It’s also a way to make my work more interesting as a gallerist and editor. I’m not just here to sell, but I’m here to invite an artist, to ask him, to convince him or her and then to accompany and to make that project possible along with the goldsmith. It’s all this building and working together that makes my job very interesting.
Sharon: It sounds very interesting and, I want to say, refreshing. When you think of Paris or France, you don’t think of it as being particularly active when it comes to avant-garde jewelry. Would you say that’s changing? Have you seen an increase of interest in the area since you opened your gallery? Not just because your gallery’s there, but more interest like, “Oh, this looks interesting,” as opposed to, “What is this stuff?”
Esther: Yeah, I’m not a specialist in the jewelry scene. I’m trying to get better, but there are places and names I still don’t know of jewelers in Paris. It seems to me that, compared to other countries, even in the northern part of Europe, France is not the place for avant-garde jewelry, but France has a tradition of art jewelry like other countries do not have. In the States, there is also a history of art jewelry. I think now there are links between all these different categories of jewelry, in part because there have been important shows held in Paris over a couple of years, one in the Musée d’Art Moderne that was called Medusa. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it was a very broad overview of jewelry of the 20th century with jewels from jewelers and from artists and also fashion jewelry. It was very interesting. There was another show in the Musée d’Art Decoratif only on artist jewelry. There have been books also, great catalogues. There’s a woman called Soulage Thierry de Sarlat who’s in Brussels, and she had a show at the Musée des Arts de Brussels last year on her collection, and she made a great book as well.
Slowly, I think the scene is more active now than in the 90s. To me, I think the topic of jewelry used to be more popular in the 60s and 70s. I found old-fashioned art catalogues and sometimes you have ads in those catalogues. There was publicity for artists’ jewelry; can you imagine? This was really in the 60s and 70s because there were some galleries at the time who were active in France and Italy. They closed at some point, so the scene was less active. Now I think it’s getting better, but it’s also a matter of people and of shows and museums and catalogues and collectors. Women wearing jewelry and acquiring jewelry are great ambassadors for all of us. You see them on the street; you see them at cocktail parties wearing jewelry, and they’re great ambassadors.
Sharon: Yes, that is the best thing. I’m thinking of some gallerists I know. You see the jewelry they’re wearing and you go, “Oh, my gosh! I wouldn’t have thought of that that way,” and we’re talking about plastic; we’re not talking about diamonds or emeralds.
Esther: Yes, yes.
Sharon: Esther, what else would you like us to know about your gallery or about jewelry? What would you like whoever is listening to know if they get to Paris?
Esther: What else? I might come to Los Angeles in February to organize a showcase during the Frieze Art Fair in a hotel. It’s not all set up yet, so I cannot go into detail, but I would be doing that with three other people, great people involved in jewelry in Paris—jewelry of a different kind, not artist jewelry, but another type of jewelry. They’re great people, great professionals, and we’re trying to organize that event. I hope it will work because American women are daring. They dare to wear what they like. To us, they seem very free in their choices, and it’s refreshing for us. Sometimes in Europe, people are more conventional; they hide what they have. I think they are getting better, but in America, it’s very refreshing to see a woman daring to wear incredible pieces of jewelry.
Sharon: That’s really interesting. We could have a whole conversation about how daring American women are when it comes to jewelry. I guess it depends on what part of the country you’re talking about, whether you’re talking Iowa—
Esther: Of course.
Sharon: I certainly hope that you do get to Los Angeles. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Esther: No, thank you for the invitation.
Sharon: It’s been a delight. To everybody listening, we’ll have a link to your contact information and the gallery’s contact information in the show notes at TheJewelryJourney.com. That wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please review us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest giving us their professional take on the world of jewelry. Thank you so much for listening.
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