A monthly glimpse at the works in the current exhibition Gilded: Contemporary Artists Explore Value and Worth. On view at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at UNCG through April 8, 2023.
Angela Fraleigh, “These Things are Your Becoming,” 2014. Oil, 23k gold leaf, metal leaf, and galkyd on canvas. 67 × 90 in. Courtesy of the artist. © Angela Fraleigh, photo by Ken EK, courtesy of the artist
In Angela Fraleigh’s dynamic, large-scale paintings, female subjects culled from earlier images take on new lives. Throughout history, women have often been painted as objects for the male gaze, but in Fraleigh’s work, they exist for themselves and each other rather than for any viewer.
Here, she reimagines French artist Simon Vouet’s 1633 painting “Lot and His Daughters.” The biblical story recounts that when two angels came to visit Lot, the townsmen demanded he turn them over for their sexual pleasure. Instead, Lot offered up his daughters. The citizens refused the substitution, after which the angels destroyed the town. Believing no one else survived and determined to preserve humanity, the daughters intoxicated their father and slept with him to conceive children. Making him the unwitting subject of their sexual demands, their violation returned the fate he would have had for them.
Although interpreted by some scholars as a tale of both sacrifice and justice on the part of the daughters, painters historically exploited its erotic potential. Vouet represented Lot not as a passive victim, but an active seducer. Fraleigh has thought about how the story and its visual celebrations might also be perceived as a sort of “apologist tale for incest… a centuries-old way of normalizing something abhorrent.” In her interpretation, Lot is largely deleted, leaving the female figures to look not at him, but at each other. The two float in an idyllic world of their own, freed from their horrific narrative, and instead framed and supported by a tangle of gilded flowers and leaves.
Fraleigh took the floral design from the textile work of pioneering American artist Candace Wheeler, an advocate for women’s professional careers in the late 19th Century and the founder of the all-female design firm Associated Artists. Fraleigh has re-created the thistle pattern from a silk and metallic thread damask fabric that Wheeler produced with the Tiffany Company in about 1881, executing the pattern with gold leaf applied to appear tattered and worn, broken but still splendid. Underscored by the title “These Things are Your Becoming,” this gilded element honors both Wheeler and Lot’s daughters — and by extension the countless women who have taken control of their own fate — whether to excel or simply survive.
Gilded: Contemporary Artists Explore Value and Worth is on view at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at UNCG through April 8.
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