alchemy + streets of gold

“Alchemy: Transformations in Gold” at the Des Moines Art Center

Alchemy: Transformations in Gold
Des Moines Art Center
February 11 – May 5, 2017

I just read about this exhibition, Alchemy, curated by Laura Burkhalter:
“Alchemy brings together a group of international artists whose work incorporates gold (or another metal disguised as gold). In each case, this precious material not only brings a sense of luxury to the work, but also ushers in connotations of the historic and cultural value various societies have placed on this rare element. As glamorous and sought after as gold may be, it’s capable of suggesting complicated politics and potent symbolism. The works in Alchemy embrace both dark and light readings of this glittering metal.”

Curious, I looked into it a little further and found some artists of interest. Rachel Sussman is an artist inspired by the traditional Japanese technique of Kintsukuroi, used to make repairs to cracked pottery with gold-dusted lacquer. In this sense, the gold celebrates the imperfections and makes them beautiful. Her Sidewalk Kintsukuroi series literally takes the process to the streets and into our urban environment where she “repairs” cracks in the pavement creating very organic textures and reflections in the man-made world.

This work made me think of a project done by jewelry artist Caroline Gore, on a trip to Florence, Italy, in 2006 when she also visited my Jewelry Design course at SACI and gave a demonstration on the technique of Keum-Boo, an ancient Korean jewelry technique of fusing gold leaf to silver. Caroline did a site-specific intervention of gold-leafing indentations in the stone street pavers of Via delle Belle Donne, mimicking light reflections in puddles after a rain. From this study, she created a brooch inspired by the result.

Caroline Gore
Caroline Gore, “Via delle Belle Donne,” Florence, Italy, Brooch: Sourced from Via delle Belle Donne, 2007 24k gold, oxidized sterling silver 5.7 x 5.7 x 0.6 cm. Selected street environment, 24k gold – Florence, Italy. Photographic reference to site- specific intervention, 2006.

Keeping on the street level, this made me recall a shining installation on another street of Florence, Via Santa Maria, in the Oltr’arno district. The purpose of the project was to call attention to a local dance festival and to create a dialogue between artists and crafts people of the neighborhood with the general public. The effect of 900 square meters of the street gilded in (immitation) gold leaf was stunning. See more images and a video of the event at Giusto Manetti Battiloro, who sponsored the gold leaf materials.

Keeping with the street theme, another artist showing in the Alchemy exhibition is Luis Gispert, with work from his Aqua Regia series. Although I’m not particularly drawn to this work, for what it’s worth, it does make a valid comment on the cultural obsession and value placed on gold. In this case, huge gold chains seem to have been smashed into black urban asphalt as if run over in the street by an SUV.

Laurent Grasso, also being shown in Alchemy, certainly uses gold leaf in a classic and historic “oil paint on panel” approach in his Studies into the Past series, but I was drawn toward the image of a wooden relief gilt with gold, . Seeing it immediately made me think of a brooch by Italian jewelry artist, Claudio Mariani, like one seen in the contemporary jewelry collection at the Galleria degli Argenti in Florence’s Palazzo Pitti. Off the street, but admittedly resembling bumpy cobblestone or floor tiles, the two pieces certainly have a visual relationship, even if the scale of each is quite different. Pictured below, it might be hard to guess which is the wall relief and which is the brooch.

And I can’t help but add one more gold leaf reference, an image of an architectural installation I saw in Florence a couple of years ago at the former tobacco factory, Ex-Manifattura Tabacchi, during an experimental sound festival, where the structural columns were gilded with gold leaf. Just remember, all that glitters is not gold.

Interior of the Ex-Manifattura di Tabacchi, Florence

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