Hunter Museum of American Art / 10 Bluff View September 22, 2023 - January 8, 2024

Across time and cultures, gold has served as a metaphor for what we value most. Symbolically, it stands in for goodness, excellence, brilliance, and wealth. He has a heart of gold. She is going for gold. It shone like gold. They struck gold. Found in crowns and regalia that bestow power, rings that signal matrimony, and currency traded among peoples, the metal has profound social significance.

Across the arts, craftspeople have long pounded gold into thin sheets called leaves, which are applied in a process called gilding. In realms of the spiritual, gilding illuminates sacred texts, gives otherworldly luster to holy spaces, and allows religious sculptures to shine.

While we most frequently associate gold leaf with historic traditions, the material appears frequently in the work of contemporary artists. Specifically, the artists represented in this exhibition turn to gilding as a means to reconsider our value systems. Gilding images of graffiti and sidewalks, cardboard boxes and architectural fragments, they ask us to see the beauty in what we so often overlook and honor that which we so often throw away. Gilding images of people—often those who have been disempowered or forgotten—they ask us to hold up our collective humanity. If, as the saying goes, “all that glitters is not gold,” the artists represented here offer an inverse proposition: perhaps that which does not always shine is most worthy of our attention.