Art Worth its Weight in Gold

Gold is a treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world, and succeeds in helping souls into paradise.”—Christopher Columbus

From the Mask of Agamenon, to Giotto’s paintings of the Virgin and Child, to Klimt’s The Kiss, the history of art is laden with gold. Not only a signifier of wealth and power, gold also inspires passion and spirituality, as it did for Columbus and countless others. In Bentley Gallery’s new exhibition “GOLD RUSH”, gold’s time-honored veneration is explored in contemporary art. Described as “Contemporary art that shifts cultural associations with the world’s most treasured metal,” the show gathers works by 15 artists who employ gold as a medium, and challenge the traditions surrounding the use of gold in art.

Gallery owner Bentley Calverley asserts that works in the show “demonstrate that in contemporary art, the use of gold is not limited by subject matter, form, or style.” Gold leaf is an especially valuable tool in its ability to easily infuse an artwork with gold’s physical and metaphorical properties, while only covering the surface. Using this traditional material, often associated with decorative arts and not often found in contemporary art, artists in the show effectively convey a modernized vision of gold as signifier of wealth and power.

Lita Albuquerque covers resin circles with a smooth layer of gold leaf, creating what appear to be flattened, concave orbs, appropriately evoking the moon in her Solar Vascillation. Makoto Fujimura covers a very large surface area with gold leaf and uses it as a brilliant surface to invigorate the gridded and gestural mineral pigment designs he paints on top. Will Berry also uses gold leaf as a background, using carbon gesso to creates a simple, repetitive, freehand pattern, effectively enhanced in visual interest and symbolic value through the use of gold. Alonso Mateo offers a traditional gilded chair with a clubfoot, Silla con pie equino, a humorous take on a traditional European decorative art, proving that use of gold can only ensure elegance to an extent.

Olga de Amaral often uses gold in her practice, making intricate textiles and tapestries that interweave gold leaf and fibers. Her works are at once feats of craftsmanship and through the use of gold, contemporized objects of desire. Gold’s use in textiles is also explored in Angelo Filomeno’s Arcanum: Death of Vanity, which is an ironic embroidery of a peacock being speared in the head by a jewel-encrusted weapon. From the gold-colored silk lamé to the diamonds in an 18-karat gold setting, to the strands of red crystals and garnets spilling out of the bird’s mouth, the work is ostentatious—to say the very least. Commenting on the evils of vanity, Filomeno offers material beauty as a means to ameliorate the dark scene of death.

“GOLD RUSH” is on view at Bentley Gallery, Phoenix, Dec. 3–Jan. 3, 2014.

Explore Bentley Gallery on Artsy.

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