Arezzo is renown as one of the most important centers of gold production in Italy, with around 1200 companies manufacturing traditional jewelry and small objects in gold. Gold is a big part of the economy in the area, and for over 40 years this Tuscan city has hosted an international commercial gold fair, Fiera Oro Arezzo. In the shadows of it’s Etuscan history and artists Piero della Francesca, Giorgio Vasari, and Luca Signorelli, Arezzo is truly precious.
The new gold museum, Oro d’Autore, opened in Arezzo last month, so I went to check it out. Located just off the main square, Piazza Grande, on the loggia side, the entrance might be easy to miss, but the location is very convenient. I entered the palazzo to the surprise of 2 security guards and one receptionist, all three men already bored and looking at their cell phones. They seemed startled to see a visitor; in fact I was the only one there.
The ground-floor space has been beautifully restored and architecturally designed to house the permanent jewelry collection. I bypassed the introductory text panels on the walls, because it was seriously way too much. I don’t think anyone would actually stand there and read them. Luckily, on my way out, I was handed a catalog about the history of the collection.
I really enjoyed the display room which housed vintage goldsmith tools and machinery, with examples of traditional techniques such as casting, engraving, and enameling. It would have been more complete, however, to see some large scale photographs or video on the bare walls of artisans working in their studio environments. Perhaps even just some sounds of machinery clacking, saws cutting, or hammers tapping.
The collection of over 300 unique pieces of jewelry on display has grown from an experimental exhibition concept in 1988 where 14 artists were invited by curators to create “artist” jewelry to be produced in local gold manufacturing companies, using some already semi-finished and preformed elements. The concept paired the traditional goldsmith industry with the creativity of contemporary artists. Oro d’Autore: Materials and Projects for a New Goldsmith Collection has had subsequent editions with variations and exhibitions during the decades since then, collaborating with sculptors, painters, goldsmiths, architects, and fashion designers, for the most part, Italian. In 1993, the initiative included artists from Japan and USA, two major consumers of Italian goldsmith works. Soon after, the collection traveled to Tokyo and Las Vegas, just the first of many other international appearances.
Some of the numerous internationally-known artists in the collection include: Enrico Baj, Lynda Benglis, Mario Botta, Andrea Branzi, Mario Ceroli, Dan Friedman, Milton Glaser, Michael Graves, Marya Kazoun, Marta Minujin, Ugo La Pietra, Alessandro Mendini, Bruno Munari, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Arnaldo and Giò Pomodoro, Ettore Sottsass; goldsmiths from the school of Padua (Pinton, Zorzi, Mannucci, Facchini, Perlini); and fashion designers ranging from Armani and Dolce e Gabanna to Vivienne Westwood.
The collection of works, originating from the 1970s, does somewhat feel a bit dated (especially the bolder trends of the 1980s), and many of the pieces exude humor or irony rather than concept, but it is definitely worth visiting to see the variations of designs and techniques which stretch the ideas of the traditional jewel to that of small-scale works of wearable art. Hopefully, the collection will grow and new goldsmith techniques and even technologies will also be represented, together with those making statements in the last half century.
Via Giorgio Vasari, 2, Arezzo, ITALY
Open: Friday – Sunday, 11am-7pm
Cost: 5 euro