Artist Lauren Kalman Covers Everything in Gold Leaf

For her solo show at New York's Museum of Arts and Design, Lauren Kalman let her signature gold leaf run wild.

(Photo: Tom Little/Courtesy of the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh)

On the eve of Election Day, one thing is certain: America’s fixation on bodies has not let up. Candidates’ health, hair, and hand size all made headlines this cycle. It’s the attitudes and powers perpetuating this culture that originally inspired Detroit-based artist Lauren Kalman to react with a series, “But if the Crime is Beautiful … ,” in 2013. It began with photographs of her naked body partially covered by strategically arranged gold-plated brass leaves and actual gold leaf, an act that, conceptually, confuses the separate but entwined desires for flesh and wealth. “It’s explicitly political, in that it’s dealing with body and gender politics,” she says. The election, she admits, made for a galvanizing force leading up to her latest show, which shares the series’ title, on view through March 2017 at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (across the street from one candidate’s notoriously ostentatious headquarters). Central to her message was Austrian architect Adolf Loos’s 1910 lecture “Ornament and Crime,” a diatribe against decoration that seemed unusually preoccupied with criminals and women. As part of MAD’s “POV” exhibition series, which invites artists to incorporate pieces from the museum’s permanent collection in their shows, Kalman selected mostly gold items and arranged them in jewelry cases. Enveloping the display are more than 2,000 of her signature gold leaves, modeled after those of a kudzu plant—a type of vine notorious for its rapid and uncontrollable growth. The result, in one way, is a sparkling explosion of an answer to Loos’s call for a spare, rational modernism. Yet, equally, it’s a statement that undermines the preciousness and prestige of something so messily abundant.

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