- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

Donald Duck’s determined search for gold in “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold!” underlines the luxury metal’s draw for high and low alike as seen in the comic book and now at the Arthur M. Sackler’s “Gold: The Asian Touch.”

“Gold” is a smallish show of 47 early and late gold objects from countries as disparate as Turkey and Japan, displayed in two plum-colored galleries. Exhibit curator Louise Cort wisely organizes the show around the techniques that make gold even more beautiful by hammering, casting and joining, stamping, repousse and chasing (created with tiny hammers for incredibly intricate designs), thin foil, wire, powder and gilding. Miss Cort, also wisely, explains the terms in the introductory wall text.

But don’t go away. This could be the “oohs-and-aahs” show of the season with objects as sensational as a 15th-century Chinese gem-studded gold jar, wall-high gold-threaded turquoise Chinese tapestry, famed Japanese master Sosetsu’s gold-leaf four-panel folding screen, Iranian Koran, and much more.

The “oohs” begin in the first room with the show’s only solid, 24-carat-gold offering: a tiny cast gold “Wild Goose on Reeds” from Japan’s Edo Period and near pure gold objects such as stamped gold coins as well as the astonishingly early, geometrized hammered-foil Chinese “Plaque With Phoenix and Dragon Heads” (a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Scott, Spring and Autumn period 770-476 B.C.).

Still in the first gallery, “oohs” continue with the very large raised-and-soldered gold sheet Indian “Earrings” and the even heavier-looking gold-sheet-with-cut-repousse-chasing-and-engraving “Marriage Necklace,” also from India. Belying their appearances, however, their raised gold sheets allowed for shaping the pieces, filling them with resin or wax, to make light wearables.

Gold’s purifying and beneficial effects endowed Hindu wearers, and the snake imagery of the “Earrings” gave them double protection: Snakes were seen as deities’ protectors and treasures’ guardians. wtperfect is the geometry of the earrings — with the spheres, cones, arches, circles and trefoil standing for different reptiles — that they become tiny, perfect gold sculptures.

It’s certain that “oohs” will follow when you step into the second, larger gallery with its wider and more varied scope and different kinds of gold. The luxurious purple-and-gold silk-threaded fabric of the traditional Japanese “Costume for No drama” is a sensual tour-de-force.

“No” actors perform on a darkish stage of unvarnished cypress and a single pine. Gold used on the costumes is reflective. Across the room, Sosetsu’s four-panel folding screen, “Silk Tree and Summer Flowers,” employs gold-as-reflection as well — but the technique’s different. He and his assistants beat gold paper sheets thin, then glued them in differently sized squares across its enormous width. Light in screens like this bounced off the dim light of many Japanese dark interiors.

There’s much more, of course. Observe the 16th- and 17th-century leather Iranian Korans elaborately decorated with paints of gold and lapis lazuli. “Leaf gilding” decorates a lively “Lynx Drinking Vessel” (2nd century B.C.) and, in the same case, “fire gilding” lights up a later Chinese cloisonne beaker vase.

Miss Cort points to other practical, and often humorous, uses for gold. Wire, filigree and granulation decorate a late Chinese “Canary Cage With Accessories” of rosewood, porcelain, gold wire, celluloid and bronze inlaid with gold.

Could there be an end to the imaginative uses of gold across the many miles of Asia? You’ll have to see for yourself.

WHAT: “Gold: The Asian Touch”

WHERE: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW

WHEN: 10 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. daily through Feb. 19.

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/633-1000

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