As I walked into the second floor gallery of the Museum of Arts and Design, currently showing a survey of the artist Daniel Brush, the first piece which caught my eye was a sculpture composed of a cascade of delicate gold butterflies spilling over a piece of steel. The piece reminded me of the butterfly sculptures made out of gold leaf and aluminum by Paul Villinski. Yet Brush works in extremely rare and luxurious materials, having created a collection of decorative and precious objects out of materials such as pure gold, diamonds, and blue steel.
At the center of the first room of the gallery sits an elliptical case housing a series of small compartments, showcasing individual pieces from the artist’s collection. Each piece, although generally small in size, evoke a great sense of grandeur both from the meticulous details drawn from the way Brush manipulates the rare materials and the richness of the materials themselves. To be honest, it was difficult to not wonder about the hefty price tag attached to such masterfully crafted objects considering the fact that the diamond encrusted Damien Hirst skull took around $23.6 million to make and sold for a whopping $100 million. There is certainly a difference between price and value, a point of interest that is briefly made by Brush in one of the illustrated publications that accompany the exhibit. The value of a Brush piece will most likely take on a similar value as ancient decorative objects, excavated and permanently housed in museums, as a relic of our contemporary times.
Out of all the pieces, the way Brush handles steel and gold is truly impressive. In his artist’s statement, he writes, “I carve steel like wood.” He manipulates metal as if it were a viscous material, creating thin layers of waves so that pieces look like solidified lava formations. The back rooms of the gallery house a series of ink on paper drawings and serialized blocks of gold and steel. The surface of the metal blocks have been subtly altered to the point that they look as if they’ve been naturally eroded by winds, creating large brush patterns. The ink drawings similarly show these brush patterns, meticulously rendered to look as if they were done with a single swipe of ink.
The notion of the artisan making one-of-a-kind decorative objects has been long lost in our world of mass producing the cheap and disposable. Modern artisanal objects, touched by the hand of a single individual, have transitioned into the world of the fine arts, as in the case of Daniel Brush.
The exhibition is running until February 17, 2013. MAD is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm and Thursday and Friday from 11:00 am – 9:00 pm. It is located at Columbus Circle and is part of the Passport to NY program.
Caroline Chen, CC’15