"Gold Rush" at Phoenix's Bentley Gallery Is a Sophisticated Exploration of Gold's Materiality
I was a little unsure as I opened the heavy doors of Bentley Gallery's reconstituted warehouse space in downtown Phoenix. The gallery's latest show, "Gold Rush," sets out to "shift cultural associations with the world's most treasured metal." The show's official description goes on to talk about the role of gold as a culturally revered substance throughout history, but my own personal association with the stuff is a little different. When I think gold, I think gaudy.
Bentley Gallery Olga De Amaral Cesta Lunar 27 (1989)
I proceeded with caution, but quickly discovered that my hesitance was unwarranted. The show, curated by Bentley's director of secondary market, John Reyes, offers a diverse selection of contemporary work from 15 artists working in various media. All utilize real gold in their artistic processes.
According to Reyes, Olga de Amaral's work was the starting point for the conception of the exhibition. Amaral is a Colombian-born artist who uses a combination of fiber, paint, gesso, and gold to create strips of color that are woven together into a large tapestry. The resulting pieces, including Cesta Lunar 27 (1989), are large luminescent patterns with incredibly precise construction. The artist has said her work is an homage to her heritage, with the gold subtly referencing Pre-Colombian traditions.
Although the historical references in Amaral's works are interesting, it's the process of producing the art that takes center stage, both in her work and in "Gold Rush" overall. Arguably, the show is less about the cultural implications of gold and more about the materiality of the gold itself.
In Martin Cary Horowitz's abstract sculptural work, the artist uses a process called water gilding, which allows him to adhere gold leaf to sheets of glass. The minimalist forms are attractive, but it's the gold leafing that makes these pieces interesting. When you get close, you can actually see the delicate folds of the leafing, which creates a sort of grid over the whole piece. This same effect is echoed earlier in the exhibition with Makoko Fujimara's Charis (2012), creating a nice feeling of continuity in the show.