GianCarlo Montebello was born in Milan, where he attended the Art School at the Sforza Castle, and where he now lives and works. His initial interest in interior decoration dates back to 1958; and in 1964, at the age of twenty-three, he made the acquaintance of Dino Gavina and Maria Simoncini, with whom he began a rewarding professional relationship that lasted for a good three years. Their Milanese exhibition space—where Montebello learned to ‘listen’ to objects, and to group them with sensitivity—was also the scene of a number of key encounters (especially with the architects Carlo Scarpa, Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni) which led him to shift his attention to other fields of endeavour. In 1967 he was to open a goldsmith workshop, entirely dedicated to working with artists.
He subsequently founded GEM, for the production of editions of artists‚ jewels: César, Sonia Delaunay, Piero Dorazio, Lucio Fontana, Hans Richter, Larry Rivers, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jesús Soto, and Alex Katz are only a few of the numerous personalities (more than fifty) with whom he worked from 1967 to 1978. He organized exhibitions for GEM productions in Europe as well as in North and South America, both in museums and in private galleries. In 1968, he made the acquaintance of Ugo Mulas, who generously offered to photograph the jewels produced by GEM. This encounter proved to be of fundamental importance: it was while working in his studio, helping the photographer carefully to pose and light the jewels, that Montebello learned the art of sufficiently distancing himself from his objects, so as finally to be able to see them in all of their relativity. Another crucial encounter took place in Paris in the spring of 1970: Montebello met Man Ray, who became his guide for many years. They continued, in fact, to work together until just a few months before Man Ray’s death. Montebello has used a single phrase to describe what Man Ray taught him: ‘Il m’apprend la simplicité des choses’. Between 1972 and 1976, Montebello made a number of trips to the United States, especially to New York, where he had set up collaborations with a number of artists, galleries and collectors. In 1978, he was the victim of a theft in which all of his work with artists was stolen, but he accepted it simply as a sign that the time had come for a change.
'Portrait de GianCarlo Montebello dans le studio de Man Ray a Paris février 1973', Man Ray polaroid
Lucio Fontana 1967 sterling silver bracelet 200 exemplars, GEM MONTEBELLO editions
ph. Ugo Mulas
He abandoned his work in the production of editions of artists‚ jewels and began instead to make jewelry of his own. His studio at number 15 Via Lamarmora, in Milan, became the site of various mise en scène. The first of the ornaments that he himself designed and realized was his Punto Colore, (‘Point of Colour’), and its principal characteristic lay in its ‘mobility’: the whole of its life resides within and depends upon the choices of the individual who wears it, and it was therefore a harbinger of one of the most authentic features of all of the work which, in years to come, was to follow it. 1983 was marked by the birth of a still on-going collaboration with the jeweler Enrico Trizio, who is based in the city of Bari. This is also the period in which Montebello perfected a procedure of design that insists on the notion of the work’s variability during the phase of its realization. In 1984, Montebello closed his workshop in Via Lamarmora and turned his whole attention to the designing not only of jewels, but also of anything else that from time to time might strike his imagination, working in collaboration with jewelers, goldsmiths and silversmiths both in Italy and abroad. His various new digressions came to include a cutlery set designed in 1985 for a Japanese company; a series of pins in glass and gold wire, which were realized as ornamental souvenirs on the occasion, in 1986, of his participation in the exhibition Zeffiro: The Possibilities of the Art of Murano, with the sponsorship of the Venice branch of the Coin department stores; the lamp in blown glass designed in 1992 for the Auras Company of Mestre; and a number of pieces of silver tableware, commissioned by Sawaia & Moroni.
Montebello also took part in the creation of the Department of Jewelry at Milan’s European Institute of Design, where in the period from 1984 to 1986 he taught Design and Construction Technique. In 1987, he concentrated mainly on the realization of private commissions for jewels, in addition to collaborating with the Société des Amis du Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre d’Art et Culture Georges Pompidou, for which he took charge of the realization of jewels by Niki de Saint Phalle, and of objects by James Brown. In 1988, his work was exhibited at the Lorenz Corporation in Milan. In 1993-1994, he dedicated a part of his time to the study of objects of common use from various cultural traditions, paying particular attention to objects in terracotta, which he sees as the material that has most allowed the human being to establish a sense of identity through a primal act of creativity. In the middle of the 1990s, he completed the cycle, begun in 1983, of his Ornamenti per Bradamante (‘Ornaments for Bradamante’); realized in stainless steel chain mail and a range of precious materials, they clearly embody the notion of garment-like jewelry, multiply combinable and highly variable. He was also invited to present the productions of GEM MONTEBELLO at the exhibition The Italian Metamorphosis, curated by Germano Celant for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1993-1994); this work was again included in the exhibition New Times, New Thinking; Jewelry in Europe and America, curated by Ralph Turner for the Craft Council Gallery in London (1995-1996). Various jewels by GEM and GianCarlo Montebello were likewise featured in the volume Cinquant’anni di gioielli d’artista italiani (‘Fifty Years of Italian Artists‚ Jewels’), edited by Luisa Somaini and Claudio Cerritelli, and published by Electa in 1996. From 2008 to 2013 jewels by GEM are showing in different international group exhibition and among others the travelling exhibition From Picasso to Koons (France, Germany, United States, Greece, Spain and South Korea). GianCarlo Montebello’s current research finds its principal guide-lines in the study of the characteristics of various materials, and especially of their compatibility with certain forms rather than with others: he thus continues to develop the wealth of a ‘story told through images’, no less than of an ars combinatoria which has always discovered its central element in its relationship with the body.