Gold chunks creep around the sides of the small entrance wall of the Contemporary Arts Center, coyly hinting at the looming gold nugget monstrosity waiting on the other side, surrounded by a host of other golden manifestations by Matthew Schlagbaum.
“They are more gold than gold is and no one’s fooled,” said Schlagbaum, a recent graduate of the Chicago Art Institute. “It’s as if they are embracing the flawed nature of the imitation. They’re failing to be gold but that’s not a problem.”
All the works in the exhibit explore the lustrous surface of gold, ruminating upon its fraught glittering identity. From a distance the over-large nugget is voraciously shiny but as the viewer approaches the seams become evident with small pieces of tape fastening the glistening skin to the scaffolding. The fake gold admits its flaws unapologetically, locating authenticity within its faux identity.
Likewise in each segment of the work titled “If It looks Like a Duck And Swims Like A Duck It Might Be A Loon,” a series of gold frames containing various forms of gold within from gold oil pastel, nail polish, Christmas garland and holographic paper, all contemplate their glitzy persona and relationship within the circumference of gold.
Adjacent to the nugget, a metal wall is littered with delicate squares of gold leaf affixed with kitschy refrigerator magnets: a lobster curled next to “I love Maine,” a slice of pizza, a “Fit and Fabulous” fitness mouse, butterflies, fish, fruit and bright parrots. A visitor walking by sets off violent fluttering among the fragile leaves, threatening to tear apart the thin gold membranes.
Use of refrigerator magnets transforms the blank gold surfaces into emblems of family photos, summer snap shots and Christmas morning, preschooler drawings and school report cards; first words awkwardly migrating to first lost tooth proudly presented; the precious moments we cluster upon a cold appliance all objects of value for those who belong to them but of little value to strangers.
Gold memories give way on the opposite wall to a tapestry of chain-linked gold leaf, each fragile square carefully laminated in plastic. Gold, often the backdrop of religious Renaissance paintings, comes forward offering its surface as both subject and ground. The gold squares form a wall of cheap relics, invoking wallet cards of plastic Catholic saints, Virgens de Gaudalupe, tattered Christ figures, valuable, crumpled and worn from touch in tense moments by believers, the cheap substance offering faith and luck. The rumpled curtain of gold plates winks and beams in the light offering up more conceptual value than metallic, prompting further interrogation of the surface of gold.
A nearby light box endeavors to continue the interrogation but quickly admits failure, titling itself “It’s Impossible To Capture This Beauty…” A translucent inkjet enlargement of gold hologram paper glows within revealing a speckled molecular composition of orange, green, pink and yellow. This multi-colored spectrum only adds to the mystery of the sumptuous hue. Gold, considered by many to be a neutral non-color, in this instance finds itself composed of a host of colors each coalescing at a distance into the effulgent orange, yellowish surface.
Schlagbaum’s inquiries into gold emanate from a desire to “reconsider surface,” something often easily dismissed, readily pushed aside as we aim for the substance of an interior. In this case contemplation of surface yields an abundance of socio-cultural and mental currency.
“It’s What’s On The Outside That Counts” runs through Nov. 7. The Contemporary Arts Center is open Wednesday-Saturday, 2-7 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Monday-Tuesday.
Contemporary Art Center, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., www.lasvegascac.org