Curator & Art

The gold idol: manipulation and art in the contemporary world

It is no secret that we live in a superficial and addicted to appearance culture which encourages obsession for a thin and athletic body. If cinema, television and advertising have been decisive in order to perpetuate this canon, the new technologies and, specifically, the social networks revolution, have implied the cultural zenith to this phenomenon, which hides, as usual, strong financial interests. The great art historian Francisco Calvo Serraller discussed in a lecture for the past exhibit Mitos del Pop (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum) that we are in a pop era, culturally and artistically, in which the artists are still appropriating the language of mass media. What seems equally obvious is that, in the same way, the big media machine hasn’t stopped using tools that once belonged to arts, an issue that has been highlighted by recent publications as Mona Lisa to Marge: How the World’s Greatest Artworks Entered Popular Culture (Prestel, 2014). A well-known Spanish football player has started with his wife a new brand of gyms and sports centres in which, consciously or unconsciously, this mechanism seems to operate again.


1- Vladímir Icon, XII century. Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow. 2- Henri de Gissey, Luis XIV as Apolo for the Ballet de la Nuit, 1653. Bibliothèque Nationale, París.

An elusive and elastic concept as art has allowed its use as an efficient propaganda carrier. Gold is not just the most valuable metal in the world, because it soon was linked to solar brilliance and, therefore, to divinity. The golden brightness has qualified from ancestral gods such as the pre-Columbian ones to the main figures of Christianity. Byzantium conceived images of Christ, the Virgin and saints over an eternal golden background, while in the Baroque period, a rhetoric, allegorical and grandiloquent culture, gold leaf covered up altarpieces and wooden sculptures. In that time Louis XIV wanted to appropriate this symbology and, providing it of a classical origin, he proclaimed himself as The Sun King. Regarding its monetary value, it is clear that gold guarantees power, a fact usually found in Capitalism.


1- Roman copy of Diadúmeno by Policleto, c. 140-150. Museo del Prado, Madrid. 2- Augusto or Tiberio , c. 50 and restauration c. XVII. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

On the other hand, body idealization was invented by Classical Greece, in which the mimesis of Nature was improved by an intellectual and mathematical notion of harmony and proportions. These measurements were also associated to divinity and heroism, precisely because of their characteristic of abstraction and being opposed to quotidian reality. Roman emperors abused shamelessly the Apollonian body: perfect standardized anatomies were manufactured while rulers’ heads were interchangeable. With each neoplatonic rise in the Western culture the Greek canon reappeared. That is the reason why Charles V ordered Leone and Pompeo Leoni to portray him idealized in order to establish a bond with Romans. In darker chapters of human history, perpetuating a mentally constructed image was used as an excuse for terrible massacre and world domination. Nazi-friendly art resurrected the neohellenic ideal to integrate it into the Aryan race using painting, sculpture and cinema, such as the documentary Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl.


Leone and Pompeo Leoni, Carlos V yand the Furor, 1564. Museo del Prado, Madrid.


Leni Riefenstahl, photogram of Olympia, 1938.

Let’s get back to the sports centre we left at the beginning. Opposite a glass wall which can be seen from the street there is a golden statue that depicts a sports and high-profile icon, one of the new gods of our secular culture, executing an epic victorious pose with a perfect anatomy. On his chest two logotypes have been painted. The message is clear: success and fame linked to an aesthetic ideal, which is of benefit to the business and sports brands such as the one which sponsored with its name that actual size trophy. This is a language that is unconsciously assimilated because of its broad cultural tradition and that makes it highly efficient. We could ask ourselves if we want to be everlastingly chasing an ideal which will never become real or, on the contrary, if we decide to get rid of the ignorance blindfold and be released from modern ways of slavery.


Golden sculpture of Fernando Torres in Nine Fitness Acacias, Madrid. Picture taken from Twitter .

Diego Fraile



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