Crystals, Order from Chaos


Dear followers,

Alchimia blog is entering a new phase, from now on commissioning reviews, interviews, conversations or image-based essays to jewelry artists, critics, and a variety of cultural practitioners from different disciplines. With an average rhythm of one new intervention per week, we will focus on the practice of jewelry artists, on jewelry pieces and exhibitions analyzed and discussed by different cultural actors and on the very personal point of view of jewelers on various cultural events, especially happening in the city of Florence, where Alchimia is located. Special attention will be given also to educational practices in jewelry and the visual arts, from the perspective of students and teaching staff.

Today, we are happy to introduce our very first commissioned piece, a review by Marissa Racht Ryan on the 6-years long Crystals Show at La Specola, the Museum of Natural History of Florence.

Enjoy the reading and visit the show. It is your last chance to do so.



Crystals, Order from Chaos

by Marissa Racht Ryan

When you do a first general informational search on crystals, you are bombarded with the sort of spiritual folklore generally associated with the “healing powers” that such gems are thought to carry. Throughout history from the earliest human graves found to documented history beginning with the Sumerians and Egyptians, there is evidence of people carrying amulets and talismans made from crystals for help and protection. Many people still today believe that they possess “magical” powers to aid in physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and general life issues. This history is attached to a very traditional and conservative understanding of jewelry and preciousness. That being said and with all honesty, when I found out I needed to write a review on an exhibition of crystals, all of the usual stereotypes began floating through my very visual mind – consisting of hippies, and cliché/ new age inspired crystal jewelry that makes a fine artist’s, and especially a fine art jewelers’, skin crawl.  So, having entered into this particular exhibition with a healthy dose of skepticism, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Artists and art connoisseurs, who are looking for a mind-blowing visual experience, need to visit this show at La Specola.  A spectacular and unique gem in and of itself, La Specola, Florence’s Museum of Natural History, is often forgotten by the general public, but is a sort of secret obsession and unending inspiration for the artists who find themselves feasting on the rare, hidden beauties that Florence has to offer. It is one of those places that people based in the city don’t want tourists to discover, because you never find yourself having to wait in a long line or make a reservation and you can almost always enjoy the galleries in a peaceful tranquility that doesn’t exist in many churches, let alone museums in this city.

Like a good visitor, you do some research on what you’re about to consume. Once you wade beyond the more superficial information available about crystals, you begin to realize that they are quite magical, but in a very scientific sense of perfection way.  Examining their atomic structures is how Crystals are identified.  They are made up of extremely organized, microscopic, geometric shapes formed by atoms, molecules and ions, producing these seemingly chaotic and very sculptural forms – hence, the title of the exhibition, Crystals, Order from Chaos. This collection is entirely assembled by one man, Adalberto Giazotto, a world renowned theoretical physicist who designed a giant antenna named Virgo, originally conceived by Einstein to capture gravitational waves.

There are no deep philosophical concepts that need to be discovered from this body of objects (although, I’m sure there could be).  Giazotto began acquiring these gems around 1950, coming from mines and caves from all over the world and his main concern was solely the aesthetic beauty of each piece – and it shows.  Speaking from personal experience, it’s one of those shows that you realize you didn’t allow yourself nearly enough time to really “see” and a guard is ushering you out, because the museum is closing.

From the way the exhibition is arranged, it is very apparent that you are in a natural history museum. In the first couple of rooms the crystals are set up in full wall sized vitrines, very dark lighting in the room but very strong light to emphasize the colors.  The dark rooms really allowed the crazy colors of the crystals to completely overwhelm you. It is not immediately clear whether there is a specific logic in the organization of the displays.

The only criticism I can constructively offer is, in the first couple of rooms, how closely they are displayed to one another. The individual pieces are so different and intricate, that they could use a little breathing room to be fully appreciated.  It becomes a sort of visual explosion, which in some sense adds to the intensity and awe of the experience. I am sure that they did the best they could with the space and security measures that they had available to them, as I imagine it to have been extremely complicated. From the perspective of jewelry artists, we know well how much those kind of negotiations can incredibly influence the way we can exhibit precious objects.

That being said, I found myself wanting to examine each and every gem with the curiosity of a child.  My mind kept fluttering to comparisons of what they resembled; landscapes, clouds, fruit, animals, contemporary sculpture, actually- probably every art movement throughout history, but nothing really even comes close.  I took what seemed like thousands of photos (enjoy a selection of those below), but they will never do the original objects justice. It is imperfections in the atomic structures that reflect light differently, which causes the variations in color.  There consists such an assortment of intense colors and color combinations, lights and darks, soft and hard textures, shapes, sizes, and compositions that an artist can only dream of achieving. As I wandered through the cases with my mouth agape from piece to piece, it was a stark reminder that nature is the original artist and that we all can only hope to come close to her creations.  Just think, the most recent crystal dates back 3 million years and the one from Ukraine, among the oldest of this type known in the Universe called Heliodor, is around 1 billion 700 million years old!

The next couple of months will be the last opportunity to see these stunning and rare gems before they are taken back to their private collection. This particular exhibition has been offered at La Specola for 6 years (please take note of this unique and temporary event) and will be closing permanently in January, 2016.  Seeing this show is an opportunity that should not be missed, and not only for jewelry artists!

Marissa Racht is a jewelry artist based in Florence. She is currently attending the second year of the MFA in Contemporary Jewelry and Body Ornament at Alchimia, tutored by Lucy Sarneel.

Here is some useful information:

La Specola is located in Via Romana 17, Firenze.  Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 9:30 to 16:30. Closed on Mondays. For ticket info call:  +39 055-265-4321               

All photos by Marissa Racht Ryan.


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