By Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell
For centuries, the metal was a respected symbol of royalty and immortality. In more recent history it has come to be associated with dictators, pop stars, and a lack of refinement.
For a would-be populist hero, the optics were jarring. During his recent 60 Minutes interview, Donald Trump perched on a throne-like gilded Louis XV chair—just one of the many gold-plated objects the president-elect surrounds himself with, from his plane to his apocryphal toilet. Indeed, critics and designers alike have wondered if he will turn the White House into the Gold House—a replica of one of his defunct casinos or his Trump Tower penthouse.
Gold has always been the color of absolute power and those who aspire to it, as a sumptuous new exhibition at The Frick Collection illustrates. Pierre Gouthière: Virtuoso Gilder at the French Court (on view until February 19) has been in the works for five years, though the curator Charlotte Vignon told me that, as of the November 8 election, “the timing is right” to reexamine the aesthetics and politics of gold décor. As a symbol of wealth, power, and eternity, gold inspired centuries of bloody wars and dangerous mining endeavors. But in more recent history, its meaning has become more complex: Its association with dictators, celebrities, and artists has also transformed it into a sign of excess, corruption, and cultural domination.