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Michelle Rodriguez

Installation view of GOLD at the Bass Museum of Art.

Bass Museum of Art:
August 8, 2014 – January 11, 2015

Curated by José Carlos Diaz for the Bass Museum of Art’s 50th anniversary, GOLD assesses the power, effect, and significance of gold through both literal and abstract approaches. The group show consists of 30 works from 24 multinational artists, all unified by the implementation of the precious metal in their pieces. Ranging from photography to sculpture to video, GOLD strengthens concepts of beautification, power, deception, perfection, ancestry, and divinity by encouraging viewers to question the capability of gold.

The idea of gold’s transformative power is evenly distributed throughout the show and builds a concrete connection between select works. Street posters are stacked together and spray-painted gold in Eric Baudart’s “Concave,” with the poster’s peeling edges forming a hollow core. The sense of grandeur that “Concave” evokes is dubious, for past the golden façade and large concavity is, ultimately, layered litter. This also happens in John Miller’s “The Newcomers.” Clusters of assorted clothing and toys are covered in imitation gold leaf, but their three-dimensional roughness and golden exterior emit a feeling of ritzy importance. It is interesting to note that Baudart and Miller have displayed works similar to the ones presented in GOLD in different shows, but they were not gold—instead, some of them were black or brown, and failed to transmit the same splendor that the golden ones do, further proving the power gold has to elevate the superficial status of almost anything.

Gold is socially synonymous with power, and where there is power there is a chance for exploitation. Exploitation is not always detrimental, though. Glenn Kaino’s “19.83” is a gold, three-level platform (commonly associated with the Olympic podium) that touches on the historical act of protest that occurred at the 1968 Olympic Games when gold medalist Tommie Smith raised a black-gloved fist in the air as a human-rights gesture. By reiterating this moment in history, Kaino is not only perpetuating the event, but also demonstrating that the power of gold (in this case, a gold medal) can positively be taken advantage of to create an impact. Conversely, Elmgreen & Dragset use “Temptation,” a gilded, bodiless arm protruding from the wall clutching a sack of coins, to construct a narrative that can be perceived as an offering from the wealthy to society or the pressure the wealthy feel society places on them to financially contribute.

GOLD also acknowledges how, much like money, gold can be used to outdo and deflect attention from negative aspects of a circumstance. At first glimpse, “Shrubz” by Ebony G. Patterson may seem like a glamorous floor-based tapestry, excessively decorated with colorful flowers, gold glitter, and toy guns, but a closer look shows hidden scenes of brutal incidents blue-collar Jamaicans have undergone. Patterson uses the seductive qualities of gold to invite and expose the spectator to the unfortunate realities of the working class that are often ignored. Hazardous working conditions are also highlighted in Robin Rhode’s “Spade,” a gold-plated shovel seated upright on a mound of charcoal dust. The shining shovel arguably gains more attention than the coal dust it is mounted on, just as how half of the world’s gold that is mined in South Africa’s Witwatersrand Basin is given more focus to than the dangerous labor that goes into mining it. Consumerism and gold go hand in hand with deflection of the harmful in Dario Escobar’s golden “Untitled (McDonald’s Cup),” as the fast-food chain often neglects the artificiality of the food they produce because of the billions of blinding dollars consumers contribute.

Pre-Columbian art is included in the show as well, with gold creating spiritual bonds and enhancing the historical value of works. Olga de Amaral’s “Strata XI” is an impressive and intricate gold leaf tapestry that is woven in much the same way Pre-Columbian relics are, but the substitution of typical Pre-Columbian materials for gold intensifies the historical and cultural importance of the tapestry. Meanwhile, Carlos Betancourt’s photography in “Amulet for Light I (gold)” is suggestive of his Caribbean ancestry, for it incorporates golden, Taíno artifacts piled on top of one another and reflected, creating ornate pillars with a mystic aura.

The actual and figurative application of gold manages to thematically link each piece without going overboard. And by attentively exploring popular notions affiliated with the malleable metal, GOLD generates a dialogue between the spectator and the show that forces the questioning and reconsideration of gold’s role in art, society, and history.