Review: Beyond Bling, Art Gallery of Western Australia

A new exhibition at the Art Gallery of WA asks the question: What does your jewellery say about you?
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Dinosaur Designs Collar bone 2014. Resin and rope, 85 x 152 x 14 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Peter Fogarty Design Fund, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 2014. © Dinosaur Designs 2014

Who doesn’t love a bit of bling? When I say “a bit” I mean 300 pieces, enough to keep Kim and Kayne happy, maybe. Beyond Bling! is a gorgeous, and at times moving, exhibition. The display includes pieces hidden in the W.A. State Art Collection from the 1800s to today, along with treasures from guest collectors. And ranging from subtle trinkets to bold adornments, it will leave you wondering what your jewellery says about you.

Nine months in the making, the exhibition is spread over both levels of the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) and celebrates the exploring and making of jewellery and adornment.

‘It’s like a treasure hunt,’ said exhibition co-curator Melissa Harpley. Harpley curated the exhibition in tandem with Robert Cook, Curator of Contemporary Design and International Art at the Gallery. It continues the Gallery’s Culture Juice program and the success of the exhibitions The Rise of Sneaker Culture and Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures.

Cooks said of the exhibition’s capacity to enchant: ‘Jewellery is the most intimate of art forms – a bridge between our bodies and the rest of the world – the rings we wear, the necklaces, the earrings, the nose rings, the bracelets, they frame us, add accents. And they bring the eye of a friend, lover – or even a stranger – to rest upon us. Jewellery exists in the domain of desire, a heightened form of non-verbal communication that flickers through the private and public realm.

He continued: ‘These exhibits highlight a body of works that provokes thought and delight, with themes ranging from the organic, to the architectural to the use of everyday items, to work created to keep private memory intact – and to draw the eyes of the crowd.’

Pearls and fur necklace; supplied

Historic Gold

First to catch my eye entering the exhibition, were the historic pieces from antiquarian expert Trevor Hancock.

I’ve always been intrigued by the exquisite little pieces forged by the early gold rush fossickers. Spending months away from loved ones, they’d fashion their finds into brooches in the hope of allaying any fears of wanning love. Dating back to the 1800s, the exhibition includes an unassuming pair of men’s cufflinks that pre-date the well-known Kalgoorlie gold era.

Trevor Hancock of Trinity Antiques; supplied

Hancock has lovingly looked after these stunning pieces through his shop Trinity Antiques, purported to be the oldest antique store in any capital city in Australia. Trinity Antiques has supplied the greatest number of pieces of Australian historical jewellery to the National Gallery, National Museum, National Library, Parliament House, and many of the state galleries.

Learn more about the exhibition’s jewellery donors. Visit 

Perth’s King of Bling

At the other end of the spectrum, is the epitome of bling from Perth’s “King of Bling”, Shane Pavlinovich. Tucked underneath the gallery’s spiral staircase, bespoke pieces sparkle with pearls and other jewels. It’s no wonder Pavlinovich’s passport officially lists him as the Duke of Pearl.

The gallery describes Pavlinovich: ‘creator and maker or bespoke statement jewellery to the bewitching (and we are talking ‘statement’ here with a capital S); and vibrant man-about-town in Perth with to-die-for bling that would make Liberace blush and Princess Mary jealous.’

Perth’s “King of Bling”, Shane Pavlinovic; supplied

George Jensen

Nearby, is a collection of silver classics from Georg Jensen, which comes to Perth from the Georg Jensen archive in Copenhagen, Denmark. Growing up, Jensen’s work was something we dreamt of – It was wonderful to drool over so many in the one place. 

The gallery described the pieces included: ‘It spans from 1904, with items made by his own hand, through to works by his studio such as major designers Henning Koppel, and concludes with two remarkable pieces designed in 2016 by the late architect Zaha Hadid, one of the most important designers of our time.’

Ring; supplied

Main Bling exhibition

Upstairs in the main gallery space, I was drawn to the first display case which included  a range of mourning jewellery. These poignant pieces deserve to be lingered over, and to appreciate their  full impact, viewers need to slow down and take the time to read each description card.

Some have lilies of the valley symbol, some pieces of hair, still others keep their secrets tucked away inside. I was surprised to hear that while many of these pieces were commissioned by family members, others were ordered by the person prior to their own death. With this in mind, the lockets that have an eye image on the front were a bit of a worry.

Harpley shed some light on their meaning. ‘They could mean that someone is looking after them, watching over them. Or maybe they are making sure you don’t get up to mischief,’ she said.

Example of mourning jewellery; supplied

Wearable art

Completing the exhibition, there are the more contemporary pieces made from local materials, polished stones and found objects. As pieces of wearable art they often came with a message. One example was the work of busy mother, teacher and artist, Brenda Ridgewell. Desperate to carve out a piece of time for herself, her pieces were said to act as a barrier between herself and others, a way of keeping people at bay.

Imagination Room

In this room, final year jewellery design students from Curtin University will show their graduation pieces. The exhibition also draws attention to gems from the WA State Art Collection – a display that features a variety of eminent artists including designs from Geoffrey Allen, Mari Funaki, Eugenie Keefer Bell, David Walker and Helen Britton.  

The exhibition got me thinking about jewellery differently. That night I made a considered necklace choice, instead of the usual throwing on anything before racing out the door. What does your jewellery say about you? Does it act as a barrier to keep people away, or a talking point to draw them in? Does it convey a message of loyalty to a missing loved one? Or is it a way to show off your body?

Rating: 4 ½ stars ★★★★☆

Culture Juice – Beyond Bling!

Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA)


13 October 2018 – 14 January 2019


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Glennys Marsdon
About the Author
Glennys Marsdon has spent over 20 years researching consumer behaviour before establishing her own Consumer Psychology Consultancy, The Customers’ Voice in 2000. Her writing and guest speaking career also began over 20 years ago at the Australian Red Cross (WA) where she managed the Adult and Youth magazines and was a member of the Disaster Preparedness Team. In 2005 she published her first book, 50 Ways To Grieve Your Lover, which was followed by the title, Me Time: 100 strategies for guilt free me time. She is a regular contributor to magazines and websites and has a monthly column at Swan Magazine. She was amongst the top 40 Perth bloggers to be invited to blog at She started her blog, The Ponder Room  in 2011, which was read in over 20 countries within six months. It is now read in over 60 countries. She took on the voluntary role of Professional Development Officer (WA) Australian Society of Authors, and became a member of the Federation of Writers (FAWWA). She serves on several boards, and was nominated for the Telstra Business Women’s Awards in 2012.