For the love of Gold

Wendi Song
A fascinating exhibition reveals the beauty and versatility of gold over the centuries
Of all the minerals and precious metals, none has held our fascination over the millennia like gold. Its beauty, its properties, its rarity and mythical symbolism have all served to make it the most valuable and precious of materials.
 
From this month until September 3, in celebration of the treasures of French culture and the Silver Jubilee of Le French May, the MGM Art Space at MGM Macau is presenting an amazing exhibition of gold pieces from France in A Golden Way of Life – Tres’Ors. The exhibition also coincides with the 10th anniversary of MGM Macau and the opening of the MGM Cotai property later this year.
 
This stunning collection of modern creations and historical artifacts includes over 250 pieces brought together for the first time, dating from the 17th century to the present. The exhibition is set in six zones, which focus on gold creations of specific genres such as Gold Materials, Sacred Gold and Gold & Art.
 
The name of the exhibition is a word play on the French word “trésors,” which means “treasures,” and “très ors” which literally means “very gold.” 
 
Upon entering the exhibition, guests are immediately greeted – alongside a 1:10 scale model of the gold lion from the new MGM Cotai property – by two impressive historical pieces: a Louis XVI oil-painted and wood-carved sedan chair from around 1780; and the first ever published comparative book of Chinese and Latin grammar from 1742.
 
“I would say this is my favourite item, because it’s a real treasure, not just in terms of value, because it’s priceless, but in a philosophical sense,” says the exhibition curator Anne Camilli from Le Musée à la Carte.
 
Prior to the official opening, Ms Camilli gave CLOSER a tour of the exhibition, demonstrating her astoundingly in-depth knowledge about every piece on display.
 
 
“The didactic part of an exhibition is very important to me. If you want the public to learn, you should be passionate about it and really want to share your passion,” she notes.  “I think the mission of culture is sharing, so I hope it’s simple enough for the public to understand and they can get really involved and interested and can learn something”.
 
Another item on display for which Anne clearly has a passion, is a Louis XV dark, golden and polychromatic chest of drawers.  She explains that in the 18th Century, Asian lacquer panels were imported to France and used as oriental decoration on luxury furniture, creating an exquisite blend of East and West craftsmanship.
 
Throughout the exhibition, the curator has gone to great lengths to find pieces that offer certain links to the location of the exhibition, including items that have an Asian influence and even pieces that feature gold lions.
 
“I had the idea of putting in plenty of things that are typically French, but there is also this link, this ‘golden thread’. I needed a selection that matched the topics, that had variety and examples of East meets West, and I also wanted to create a link with Macau through the Catholic faith,” she explains.
 
Reflecting this are a number of religious artifacts and liturgical objects including the Abbot Theodore Combalot’s Chalice from the Medieval period, and the stunning Chasuble Angélique made with gold and silver laminated stitching from the 19th century.
 
Putting together an exhibition of this nature and scope was not without its challenges, the curator explains.  One particular difficulty right from the beginning was the time frame.
 
“A museum would normally ask for two years to do this and I did it in four months.  Last year I presented the project to MGM Art Space and they gave me the decision on December 1, so you can imagine what a hectic life I have had since then,” she laughs.
 
Reflecting on the process of gathering all the pieces from different galleries and collectors, Anne also remembers some other hurdles along the way, including one of her most skilled gold gilders retiring from the business, an antique dealer passing away mid-negotiations, and a museum pulling out when one of their valuable items was stolen while on loan to another exhibition.  But in the end, she feels the effort has certainly paid off.
 
“It’s been fantastic. I’ve met some extraordinary collectors, very generous ones, and it’s been a real team effort with MGM, I must say. I’ve never had a team like this working with me. They try to make my life easy, which is a first. I had total freedom and total respect, which is really unique, I can tell you. I can’t really believe it’s happened. It’s like a dream come true.”
 
One impressive aspect of the exhibition is the immense scope and variety of the pieces on display. From religious artifacts and classic and contemporary art works, to fashion and accessories, precious watches and jewelry, everyday life objects, vintage furniture and porcelain, the collection is truly a testament to the versatility of gold and the attraction it has held for so many for so long.
“Each time I curate an exhibition it’s like going back to school. The learning phase is very rewarding and when I started really looking into the history and symbolism and myths about gold, it’s really fascinating. Not just because it’s expensive but also because of its properties, both physical and spiritual.  Diamonds are beautiful, I love them, but they don’t have the same spiritual properties as gold.” 
 
Anne explains that just one gram of gold can make 3km of gold thread or one square metre sheet of gold leaf! 
 
As we come towards the end of the exhibition, we are brought back into more modern times and reminded that gold is still very much in use today, particularly in the world of fashion.  There is a Guerlain l’Habit de Fete perfume bottle embroided with 24 karat varnished gold thread, produced in 2013 for the 160th anniversary of Eau de Cologne Imperiale; and limited edition Givenchy Le Rouge Kyoto leather lipstick cases hand-painted in gold-leaf by Japanese artist Hiroto Rukusho in 2016.
 
“What I love to do in my exhibitions is show that these traditions that started a long time ago, still exist today, and that for these, France is a real treasure.” 
 
 
Official Opening: 
Wednesday May 17
MGM Art Space, MGM Macau