Alchemy of Fashion: The Wearable Art of “Heavy Metal”

From jackets made of hammered sheet metal, to cuffs of delicate copper and organza, Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018 features a diverse array of wearable art. On one level, these pieces can be appreciated as sculptural works of art. On another, they are functional objects.

Left: Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla; Right: Kerianne Quick, The Utility of Sentimental Emotions, and Perceived Value, 2017; Sterling silver, copper, and steel, 24 x 5 x 1/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Artists Kerianne Quick and Carolina Rieckhof Brommer create wearable works that speak to the intimate roles that clothing and accessories can play in people’s lives. For both artists, metal is intrinsic to the meaning of their works. Quick’s The Utility of Sentimental Emotions, and Perceived Value (2017) references the objects that migrants—by choice or necessity—decide to leave behind or take with them. Quick’s work explores the significance and weight that a metal key can have to humans. Brommer’s welded steel coat, Self-portrait 4 (2005), mimics the folding and texture of fabric’s patchwork, but is as hard and immovable as armor. Brommer’s work was influenced by issues surrounding violence against women. The experience of shielding one’s body through clothing is not uncommon for many women.

Left: Cheryl Eve Acosta, Open to Heal, 2009; Cuff with copper and organza, 10 x 11 x 5 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Affandi Setiawa; Right: Petronella Eriksson, Water Lily, 2013; Necklace with silver and lemon quartz, 5 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 10 5/8 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Christian Habetzeder

Several Heavy Metal artists create wearable art in the form of jewelry. Their works play with contrast and highlight metal’s lustrous qualities. Artists Petronella Eriksson and Cheryl Eve Acosta take inspiration from the natural world. Eriksson’s necklace, Waterlily (2013), contains smooth silver and a large piece of lemon quartz. Delicate, curling tendrils spill onto one shoulder of the person wearing the necklace. A minimalistic take on the flower, the cut gem references the yellow fruit at the center of a real plant. Acosta, influenced by the tropical environment of her native Puerto Rico, finds inspiration beneath the sea. Although Acosta’s cuff Birth (2015) and collar Healing (2009) are made from copper, they refer to the shapes and forms of coral and barnacles.

Metal is both a standard material for delicate jewelry and an unlikely material for clothing. The artists in Heavy Metal embrace the unexpected to create innovative, dynamic works.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018 is on view through September 16, 2018.

—Nana Gongadze is the summer 2018 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Questions with Carolina Rieckhof Brommer

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Carolina Rieckhof Brommer
Nominating committee: Peru Committee / Consulting curator: Sharon Lerner, Museo de Arte de Lima

 1. What do you like best about working with metal?

Working with metal allows me to make changes. I can just cut it and weld it again. Because I make wearable sculptures, I like to think about what the material can add to the work. What can a metal apron or jacket say about the body that wears it? There is power in sewing, embroidery, and stitching, and I add a twist by using hard materials.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

I always wear my sculptures. My themes are related to a feminine world. For example, I am currently working with maternal themes. I made an alabaster belly, which I attached to my body with a leather harness. I asked women questions about maternity and it became a shared experience. I am interested in portraying my own ideas, but also seeing how my ideas connect to other people.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

I don’t think I have one essential tool, but a pencil and a camera are useful. With a pencil I can draw and write down my ideas. The camera allows me to compare my ideas with reality. I take pictures of myself wearing my sculptures and I know if something is working or not. I print those pictures, draw on them, and imagine how to finish the work.

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 3, 2004; Metal sponges and metal mesh, 98 1/2 x 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 3, 2004; Metal sponges and metal mesh, 98 1/2 x 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

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Carolina Rieckhof Brommer, Self-portrait 4, 2005; Welded steel, 47 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Natalia Revilla

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

I need to create something when I am frustrated by reality. There is the sense of impotence that makes me want to make something in order to cope with it. I absolutely love the work of Louise Bourgeois, and how she addresses her subjects with an amazing amount of honesty, intensity, and power.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

Rachel Whiteread’s exhibition at Tate Britain was great. The idea of casting a space and materializing the void is amazing. While I was there I was surprised by a visitor guide for blind people. How do you explain art, especially Whiteread’s work, to someone who cannot see? I love how art can open new connections and engage people in dialogue, and in equality.

I also saw an exhibition in Lima called JEDEQUE: el retorno del Cordero. Artist Miguel Cordero uses dark humor to confront reality and to talk about political issues. Cordero considers his work visual poetry, and I love this idea.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.