Founded in 1969, the Fuller Craft Museum begins the celebration of its 50th year with the opening of “Striking Gold: Fuller at Fifty” on September 7, and its 50th Anniversary Gala that takes place on Saturday, October 19. The landmark exhibition aims to celebrate the museum’s rich past and provide a look at its future direction through the works of 57 artists for whom gold is central to their work. The exhibition was co-curated by Fuller Craft Museum Chief Curator Beth McLaughlin (BM) and Suzanne Ramljak (SR), an art historian, writer, curator and former editor of Metalsmith magazine. Artscope Magazine’s managing editor, Brian Goslow, shared questions with them on the exhibition and the museum’s anniversary.
How was “Striking Gold” selected as the theme for “Fuller At Fifty?”
BETH MCLAUGHLIN (BM): A few years back, we started discussing Fuller Craft’s upcoming 50th anniversary and ways in which to best commemorate such a landmark event, whether it be through exhibitions, programs, publications or special events. As exhibition ideas got tossed around, the theme of gold emerged. As most people know, the metal is synonymous with 50th anniversary celebrations, and it also suggests achievement — trophies, medals, gold stars, which seemed a fitting lens through which to recognize five decades as a cultural institution. And creatively, it is a “gold mine” that offers rich history, cultural impact and abundant material possibilities for art forms.
Was it challenging to put together a show like this – especially when it’s intended to be a signature event? Is that an added pressure?
BM: To properly celebrate our 50th anniversary, the scope of the project and the quality of the work had to be unlike anything we had produced before. It was quite the daunting task, considering our history of exhibitions and the level of talent of today’s artists. But once the theme was established and our co-curator Suzanne Ramljak signed on, the exhibition began falling into place. Perhaps our biggest challenge was making sure to reflect Fuller’s dual history as both a fine art and craft museum. But this condition yielded a tremendous opportunity to bring non-craft media into the galleries — painting, photography, video — which hasn’t been seen at Fuller Craft for quite some time.
When did the planning process begin – and can you estimate the hours that went into the final result?
BM: The planning process began in the fall of 2017, and a conservative estimate for time spent would be well over a thousand hours, considering the efforts of all those who worked to make it a success.
How did you select the work that will be on display – was it by item or artist?
BM: The work selection was approached in multiple ways. We developed an initial list of artists that are renowned for centralizing gold in their practice — Lauren Kalman, Lisa Gralnick and Rolando Peña, for example. There also were specific objects we knew of that would strongly support our thematic approach, such as Lisa Kirk’s “Chimes” and Hew Locke’s “Central Park, Christopher Columbus.” As can happen during the discovery stage, once we started talking with potential artists and others in the field, more possibilities emerged and the exhibition “wish list” began to take shape.
How much of the work comes from the Fuller collection – and what are the standout pieces from it?
BM: One work from our permanent collection will be included in “Striking Gold,” Roy Superior’s “The Angler’s Shrine,” which is a splendid wood sculpture that lionizes the sport of fly fishing. We are fortunate that our permanent collection includes quite a few standout gold pieces, and to show them off we’re presenting a collection exhibition to run at the same time as “Striking Gold” titled “Gleam: Golden Selections from the Permanent Collection.”
From those outside the collection, what is the process for securing the work you wanted to include in the show?
BM: Once the initial selection list was determined, I began contacting the artists and galleries to discuss the exhibition and request works for the show. The process went smoothly, and we were fortunate that nearly all the objects on our wish list made it into the final exhibition.
The show is going to explore a series of themes through the work on display; how do you make this exhibition “contemporary” so that it speaks to audiences of all ages?
BM: The exhibition explores a variety of themes, from gold as a value marker to the devastating consequences of gold mining to gilded nature. Rather than a historical overview, the exhibition aims to show modern interpretations of the ancient material, and we hope the works will surprise viewers with their relevancy and potent messaging about today’s issues.
For example, Anina Major’s “Weight in Gold” explores the history of slavery in her native Bahamas and its ties to the commodification of the black female figure. Also featured in “Striking Gold” is “Radical Jewelry Makeover,” a community-based recycling project that successfully links social activism with reuse to promote responsible mining practices. All the objects in the exhibition are beautiful to behold, and many offer powerful content about today’s pressing issues.
Craftmaking, as a whole, seems to have gained a wider appreciation and audience over the past decade, with sometimes even small amounts of gold being added to pieces to give those works a special visual touch or feel. Will some of the work on display in “Striking Gold” reflect its usage in pottery, fiber works or other related items?
BM: Craft making certainly has enjoyed a surge in popularity and one I believe is here to stay. Naturally, “Striking Gold” features remarkable examples of jewelry-making — the art form most associated with gold — but other materials are called into play to demonstrate gold’s multimodality. For example, “Striking Gold” includes works in the kintsugi tradition, a Japanese art form of mending broken pottery with gold to position breakage as a natural, beautiful passage in the life of an object. There are also glass artists working in verre églomisé, a technique in which the underside of glass is gilded to produce a radiant surface, and lush textiles constructed with traditional techniques and modern innovations.
You’re putting together a catalog for the exhibition; not only will it be a commemorative publication, but a lasting historical document. From a collectors’ or historians’ perspective, what is the lasting value and importance of a book like this?
BM: Whenever possible, Fuller Craft produces catalogues to support exhibitions to serve as both lasting physical records for the museum and important tools for the participants — artists, lenders, collectors, sponsors and curators. For our 50th anniversary, having a commemorative publication is more important than ever, both to support “Striking Gold” and to mark this landmark year. The book itself looks and feels like a gleaming, golden object. It does not disappoint!
Gold seems to have regained its position as a standard of success, especially in athletes and performing artists, displayed through their chains, necklaces and jewelry that they wear. Does that interest stretch out to other crafted items made of gold?
SUZANNE RAMLJAK (SR): Gold has served as a status symbol and sign of authority throughout all of human history. Basically, the more gold you have, the more power you are perceived to have. As a fashion statement and form of conspicuous consumption, oversized and flashy adornment has become more mainstream during the last couple of decades in the wake of hip-hop or bling jewelry. Even if the jewelry is made of cheap golden metal and not pure gold, the “gold effect” still communicates wealth to others.
Several contemporary jewelers adopt the bling aesthetic in their work, making super ostentatious or in-your-face pieces. One such example is Frank Tjepkema’s gold-plated “Bling Bling” neckpiece, which is a cross-shaped web of layered corporate logos. In a similar vein are the chunky solid gold rings of Karl Fritsch, with graffiti-like incisions of car brands or self-important phrases. Other works in the exhibition mock and tease our blind worship of such gaudy materialism.
Has there been a change in the use of gold in recent years (or decades) as a tool in creating art work – and if so, what new innovations have made this possible?
SR: In many ways, gold is a dream material for artists. It has a unique combination of properties including being pliable, extremely stable, rust proof and, of course, gloriously radiant as if lit from within. Artists today continue to work gold just as it’s been done in the past — casting, carving, gilding, plating, etc. In terms of new approaches, innovation can be seen in the types of objects that are getting the golden treatment today, everything from dog bowls to blades of grass. Also, there are surprising material combos found in the works, including gold alongside rubber, burlap, cardboard and even crushed lava. The variety of work on view is a testament to gold’s great versatility and limitless possibilities. Gold really does rule!
The images I’ve seen from the show include recently created works; which artists are taking gold and presenting it in new and attention/eye-catching ways – and what makes them stand out?
SR: Gold is an inherently eye-catching material and has proved to be an irresistible lure throughout the centuries. With a handful of exceptions, all the work in this exhibition was made in the 21st century and reflects current cultural concerns. Many contemporary artists enlist gold to draw attention to unexpected or marginal subjects, like with gold-plated Dorito chips or an Uzi machine gun, or they give new twists to traditional forms such as reliquaries and sentimental jewelry. In several of these works gold serves as the visual bait that attracts the viewer and then provides them an opportunity to revisit their ideas about the metal, like the environmental and human costs of gold mining, or even the important role of gold in human health and beauty.