Those MasterCard ads where they go down the list of line items in dollar amounts before hitting the final life-lesson displaying their signature emotional hook, "Priceless," is memorable because it makes us think about the value behind the things we purchase. It's of course ironic that it's a credit card company that's making this point, but for a ten cent lesson in value judgement, it gives you a moment of pause to consider the real worth behind objects. This Bird had the opportunity to wander through the Bellevue Arts Museum latest exhibition, The Gold Standard, by artist Lisa Gralnick, which asks the same questions about the commodities of life, in a compelling, even unnerving way.

A metalsmith by trade, Lisa Gralnick takes her knowledge of casting objects and applies it to a three-part series on display at BAM from February 18 through August 1st. The first part, Commodification and Sensible Economy is the most striking and relevant, as it illustrates in physical form, the monetary value of our habits, desires, and vanities. Using pristine white plaster, Gralnick perfectly casts everyday objects with particular segments in 18K gold. The eye immediately goes to the gleaming portions of precious metal, standing out against the ghostly pale of the plaster -- some are large areas, some are so small, you have to hunt for it. Gralnick uses the amount of gold equal to the value of these everyday things -- a gold bit in the mobile phone is the cost of a cel phone bill, a string of gold pills attached like a delicate necklace is the cost of antidepressants, and the eerie cast of a face with the gilded nose uses the precious metal to illustrate the cost of a nose job. Haunting, indeed.

Walking through the displays of common objects with hints or whole sections cast in gold is a self-reflective experience, where one can't help but question the difference between value and worth. A nugget-sized portion of gold fused in a collection of white coffee bags compounds the cost of those seemingly harmless afternoon latte breaks. The vaccum cleaner perfectly captured in plaster, down to the detail of the dustbag's texture, forces one to search for where the gold is located, making the viewer realize how society values the labor force in America.

From benign, everyday things to objects of vanity and excess, no one is left untouched by this haunting artwork. There's no irony lost on the fact that it's on display right in the center of downtown Bellevue, across the street from the giant shopping mall, but like the role of good art, it will make people stop and think. Instead of simply asking what an item costs, perhaps people should be asking what value will this item bring into this life?

Jaunty Fine Print: Photo credits from left to right, going clockwise:

Lisa Gralnick
The Gold Standard Part I: #8 Rhinoplasty
Plaster, gold and acrylic
16 x 16 x 15
Collection: Susan Beech
Photo: Jim Escalante

Lisa Gralnick
The Gold Standard Part I: #11 Tiffany Ring
Gold, acrylic
2 x 40 x 16 in.
Collection of Rotasa Trust
Photo: Jim Escalante

Lisa Gralnick
The Gold Standard Part I: #3 Cell Phone
Plaster, gold, acrylic
30 x 20 x 16
Courtesy of the artist
Photo: Jim Escalante

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  1. Wow. Those are some arresting images....

  2. I just went to BAM last night to see the Levine exhibit and absolutely fell in love with this series! Totally original and clever.


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