The Gilded Week

Gilding has come up a few times this week in Tadporters, which is to say, a few more times than it has since I started working here. You can check our facebook page to see a couple of the videos we’ve posted.

Gilding is the process of applying a thin layer of gold, silver, or metal leaf to a frame. Gold leaf is 24-karat gold pounded into an extremely thin sheet.

Gilding is a fascinating, labor intensive, time-honored craft. It’s remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years, and to learn the craft, a potential gilder undertakes a five year apprenticeship. It’s basically as much of an education as a double major in undergrad.

Typically, a person would only gild if they make or repair moulding, so in a frame shop it’s merely a peripheral interest for us, like glass-making or wood-carving. It would normally only come up when some annoying little flake of leaf weasels its way onto the surface of a picture. Nonetheless, as far as peripheral interests, it’s a particularly bewitching one.

I suspect this is due to the gold involved, the material Black Elk called “the yellow metal that drives white men crazy.” It certainly has hypnotized the Western world for millennia. Minus teeth, most people would happily accept gold anything. And most people would probably accept gold teeth, too.

Gold usually connotes weight: gold bricks, rings, jewelry, etc. By contrast, gold leaf is fragile, ethereal. Metal drifting off like a feather seems more  magic trick than reality. And since gilding has existed for thousands of years it also conjures images of alchemy, pharaohs, and royalty. It’s a  mesmerizing material.

Gilding provided one of the most notable examples of satire in American history, when Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner labeled the late 1800s the Gilded Age.

Gilding and gold leaf also call to my mind one of my favorite art pieces, Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle (Zone of immaterial pictorial sensibility) by Yves Klein. Essentially, Klein sold empty space (nothing) to collectors in exchange for the empty space’s value in gold leaf. They were given a receipt for their purchase, although Klein encouraged them to burn it.

Half the gold was then thrown into a river, and the other half went into paintings. Of note, one of his gold monochromes has since sold for $21,000,000. The project was tongue in cheek in a lot of ways, but it was also entirely blissed-out. It was also, along with much of Klein’s other work, foretelling of art’s direction in the subsequent years.

To bring that back around, Klein’s original inspiration to work with gold leaf spurred from his time working in a frame shop.

“And the gold, it was something! These leaves that literally fluttered with the least current of air on the flat cushion that one held in one hand, while the other hand caught them in the wind with a knife…. What a material! The illumination of matter in its deep physical quality, I came to embrace it during that year at the ‘Savage’ frame shop.” – Yves Klein

 

 

The most overlooked side of framing

Usually, when thinking about frames we think about them from the front, right? While it’s counter-intuitive, the back can offer just as much to see as the front, especially with famous works of art.

The artist Vik Muniz had an amazing show a couple years ago where he reproduced to scale, inch-by-inch, the backs of world-renowned paintings like Starry NightLes Demoiselles d’Avignon, and American Gothic. The pieces are so precisely forged it would be nearly impossible to tell them apart from the originals. Unless of course, somebody looked at the back… which would be the front of the painting… but the back of this work.

Vik Muniz

Verso (Starry Night), 2008
Mixed media object
29 x 36.25 x 12 inches

In the press release, Muniz explained:

Whenever someone wants to see if an artwork is ‘real’, the first gesture is to look at its back or at it’s base; the part of it that normally isn’t visible to anyone else but experts, dealers, museum conservators or the artists’ themselves. This happens because while the image’s objective is to remain eternally the same, its support is constantly changing, telling its story, showing its scars, its labels and periodic clichés. So when a cousin of mine told me his 7-year old could paint a Picasso, I told him ‘probably, but he couldn’t do the back’. As a teenager, I used to fix the neighbor’s TV as a hobby. I wanted to learn how to fix clocks too. Whenever something’s function is basically visual, there is always an opening in the back for the curious to do it damage.

-Vik Muniz in an unpublished interview, 2005

Here’s a link to the rest of the work. http://www.sikkemajenkinsco.com/vikmuniz_viewexh3.html

I really wish I could see what the backs (fronts?) of those pieces. What could they be? Paintings?  Another back?

So, if the whim strikes you, turn around your frames today and see what’s going on back there.