On the occasion of the 57th Venice Biennale of Art, the Michael Werner Gallery presents “ The Golden Tower ”, an artwork by James Lee Byars that will be exhibited from May 13 to November 26, 2017 at Campo San Vio, by the banks of the Grand Canal, between the Academy and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This Biennale side event, curated by Marino Marini Museum director Alberto Salvadori of Florence, was made possible thanks to the important contribution of the Giuliani Foundation of Rome and the support of the Michael Werner Gallery of New York.
The over 20-meter tall obelisk is completely gilded with 35,500, 24-carat, 80 x 80 mm format gold leaves, produced by Giusto Manetti Battiloro, the world’s leading manufacturer of gold leaf for artistic decoration, restoration and interior design. The work is covered with the equivalent of 710 grams of pure gold. The installation was made in honour of a long-awaited, never-realized wish of the enigmatic American artist: placing a taller than 1,000-metre golden sculpture along the Berlin Wall. A similar work, also named “ The Golden Tower ”, was previously made by Byars and exhibited to the public at the Martin-Groupis-Bau of Berlin in 1990.
The curators’ decision of installing the opera in Venice underscores the strong bond that James Lee Byars had with this city, where he lived from 1982 until his death. During that time, working closely with Murano glass masters, Mr Byars produced the very famous sculpture “The Angel”, consisting of 125 clear Murano glass balls arranged next to each other, on exhibit at the Michael Werner Gallery in New York since 2006 and at the Michael Werner Gallery in London since 2013.
The artist and sculptor also promoted numerous shows and exhibited many of his works in Venice, like the famous “The Death of James Lee Byars” in 1993. Byars participated in four previous Venice Biennales, with the performance “Be Quiet” at the opening of the XXXIX Biennale and “The Poet of the Gondola” during the 1986 Biennale. His sculpture “The Spinning Oracle ofi Delphi” was exhibited at the 1999 Biennale, as well as three large golden marble sculptures at the 2013 Biennale.
The gilded obelisk “The Golden Tower” lights up Venice from various perspectives, as it is placed in one of the city’s strategic points. The artwork becomes therefore almost a landmark for locals and visitors, a sort of golden lighthouse that illuminates Venice from the Grand Canal.
The combination of this precious metal with modern and contemporary art is increasingly frequent. The use of gold leaf is no longer exclusively linked to the world of classical art and restoration. Today we see a kind of gold leaf Renaissance, with famous architects and interior designers increasingly making use of it for the realization of new projects, as an elegant detail or even an essential element of contemporary and modern architecture.
Just think of the recent “Prada Foundation” by Rem Koolhaas, a detailed architectural configuration where new elements interact with what is already there. The project, a result of the requalification of a distillery dating from the early 1900s, involved seven existing buildings and three new structures, including the tower, gilded with more than 200,000 gold leaves. In the world of luxury interior design, gold leaf was selected as a quality material for the remodelling of the famous New York Aquazzurra shoe store, the result of an important collaboration between designer Ryan Korban and brand curator Edgardo Osorio.
Throughout the centuries, gold leaf has been used extensively in interior design and architecture; warm and radiant light, malleable consistency and especially resistance to external agents have always made gold one of the world’s most precious metals.