‘Jewelry is my life’

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Meet Bryna Pomp, the woman behind New York’s most spectacular jewelry show


  • Bryna Pomp has been curating the LOOT show since 2011. Photo courtesy of Bryna Pomp

  • LOOT: MAD About Jewelry, held each year at the Museum of Arts and Design, attracts jewelry lovers from across the U.S. Photo: Michelle Naim

By Michelle Naim

Bryna Pomp has curated nine editions of LOOT: MAD About Jewelry, the annual exhibition and sale of international contemporary jewelry at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) since she became the curator in 2011. With her bubbly personality, bold statement necklaces, and impeccable taste in eyewear, she’s clearly cut out for the job. LOOT 2019’s first full-day, at MAD on Columbus Circle, began on Tuesday April 9th and lasts until Saturday April 13th. Pomp spoke with Straus News about the exhibit, her career, her work as an international jewelry scout and her personal jewelry collection.

What would you say is your primary job as curator?

My primary job is to have LOOT present annually the most innovative exciting and interesting work of contemporary jewelers I am seeing in my daily research and travels. In the past year, I’ve made two trips to Europe and one trip to Asia.

How would you say the show has changed since you began curating it?

It has become a much more international show. This year we have artist from over eighteen different countries. And it’s become a much more diverse show. And when I use the word diverse, I’m talking about the materials that you will see in the collections that are presented. So in addition to a very strong component each year of collections that focus on metals such as silver, gold, titanium, stainless steel, sometimes aluminum, bronze, and brass. I also consider it very important to show a breadth of other materials. Some of the materials that you will see this year are wood, glass, photography, resin, silicon, concrete, recycled skateboards, horse hair, repurposed picture frames, porcelain, and enamel.

How do you find these artists?

I travel regularly to places to see contemporary jewelry and to meet the makers. Many artists submit their portfolios to me. Almost every day I’m receiving several portfolios from artists because they all know about LOOT and they all recognize that it’s the most important show of contemporary jewelry in America. They are quite interested in participating.

What are your criteria for selecting artists?

There are really three criteria for my selection of the artist: first is excellence of design, second is innovative usage of materials, and outstanding craftsmanship is the third. I like to structure LOOT in a way so that there is something for every visitor. For somebody who is maybe just getting acclimated to the idea of wearing some contemporary jewelry, buying something different from what they’re used to seeing. And then I want to have something there for a serious [and] committed jewelry collector. I have the exact same criteria for all levels of the jewelry that are present at LOOT.

This year for the first time there was a LOOT advisory committee with whom I discussed my choices for this year’s 55 artists. The committee consists of Michele Cohen, chair, board of trustees, Museum of Arts and Design; MAD board members Marsy Mittlemann and Barbara Waldman; and Susan Ach.

What is the connection, if there is any, of this jewelry show to New York City as a whole?

New York City is a home to many sophisticated, interesting, savvy people and I think that the jewelry at LOOT very much satisfies their desire to see some very interesting and unique art, art that is wearable. And something that I often talk about is that within the field of art, everybody always talks continuously about contemporary art. But we barely have any opportunity to see contemporary art beyond painting and sculpture. We have so many opportunities to see contemporary painting and sculpture in museums and galleries, in public space. And the field of contemporary jewelry is not among the sectors of art that are widely exhibited. So LOOT is really the primary opportunity, on an annual basis, for the public in New York (and in America) to see this breadth and this level of contemporary jewelry. People come up to me all day long at LOOT and tell me they came in from California, or Arizona, or Texas, because they know about LOOT and they want to come here and shop. People make specific trips to New York to go to LOOT which is extremely gratifying.

Do you have a personal connection to this show?

Very much, yes. I mean, the jewelry is very much a reflection of me and of what I find the most interesting and innovating within the context of the whole world of contemporary jewelry that I’m looking at. I extract from the thousands of artists whose work I look at annually and whose work I think satisfies all the criteria that I just mentioned. So it is a very personal choice.

What about it is personal?

Jewelry is my life ... I think about jewelry 24/7, 365 days a year, I read everything I possibly can read about jewelry, about all sectors of jewelry — about fine jewelry, fashion jewelry, studio and art jewelry, contemporary jewelry. So I’m able to put all of this work that I’m seeing globally into a context and say these are the artists whose work MAD should present at LOOT this year.

Did you always know that you wanted to do this?

No, no, no, it was sort of accidental. I tried to get a job after college teaching French and I was not successful at that. I was always interested in the business of retailing and I was accepted into a very rigorous executive trading program at Federated Department Stores, which is the parent department store of Bloomingdales and Macy’s, and it has always been known as the best executive training program in America. So, I got into that very selective program and within the first week of the program, you get randomly assigned to a department to be an assistant buyer and I was put into fashion jewelry and that’s it. I’ve been in jewelry for decades based on that random assignment.

Were you into jewelry before that?

Not at all, no! I used to wear the same pair of earrings for years! Every picture I see of me in college, I’m wearing the same earrings. It just sort of clicked immediately. I really found it a very interesting business and product and sort of went from one thing to another. First I was an assistant buyer, then I became a buyer, then I was recruited by a very large fashion jewelry company to be the product director. One thing led to another. So, I’ve spent my whole career as a professional in the field of jewelry.

How many pieces of jewelry do you own?

It’s hard to say, but I have to say it’s probably verging on a thousand.

Do you have a favorite piece?

No. When I wake up in the morning, I think ‘What am I going to wear today — as far as jewelry goes?’ I change my jewelry once, maybe twice, a day. I really try to cycle through all of my jewelry possessions so that I wear something different continually and I try to post almost everyday on Instagram what I’m wearing. I love wearing it. There’s some collectors who don’t wear their jewelry, but I do. I love having my jewelry noticed. I wear just very plain solid colored dresses and usually a very big necklace and earrings. I’m not wearing any bracelets today, I’m pared down, but I love having the jewelry noticed the minute I walk into a room or when I’m walking down the street. I love when people stop and ask about it because much of the jewelry at LOOT has a great story behind it and I love sharing that story. For example, this necklace I’m wearing now is made by probably the oldest jeweler we’ve ever had [at LOOT]. She’s here with her granddaughter. She’s over 80 years old. She works in glass and at the state of the union address in January I was this close to the screen looking at Nancy Pelosi and I was like ‘Oh My God — she’s wearing a big necklace. What is it, what is it?’ I [couldn’t] identify it. The next morning, six o’clock in the morning, this jeweler who I invited to LOOT a year ago, said ‘Did you see my necklace last night?’ I said ‘Oh My God now I know who made it.’ I had discovered her a year ago.

And then, for example, there are there are four very young jewelers here from Madrid, I met them in the fall in Europe. They graduated recently from a very strong metalsmith program at a jewelry school in Madrid, and I love their work. They’re very young, but I think they’re making groundbreaking work already.

Do you want people to come out of this show feeling a certain way?

Yes, I want them to come out of this show with an understanding that there is very interesting innovative, contemporary jewelry being made in so many countries around the world. I’m hoping that this will encourage people to think beyond the more commercial type of jewelry that they are most normally exposed to and are buying. Most people wear very commercial jewelry because that’s all they have the opportunity to see, so when they see [LOOT they think], ‘I didn’t know there could be jewelry from glass or wood, or this and that.’ So yes, I want them to come out with their eyes open to a whole sector of jewelry they did not know existed.

Is there a price range for this show?

There is jewelry at this show from under $100 to several thousand dollars. But there is a very strong representation of jewelry under $750. There is some expensive jewelry here, but I don’t want people to get scared off by that. I want people to know that they can come in here and spend what they feel comfortable spending.

Why is LOOT held here, at the Museum of Arts and Design?

The MAD is the only museum in America that has a permanent jewelry gallery devoted exclusively to modern and contemporary jewelry. In support of the museum’s commitment to the field of jewelry, we want to make contemporary jewelry accessible to the public so we hold LOOT every year. I always like to add that it’s a four-prong commitment to the field of jewelry. The museum has a vast collection of jewelry that it owns, it has temporary exhibitions here, we have LOOT, and we have a year-round shop on the ground floor that sells artist-made jewelry.

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