What sort of behavior do photos and video of a naked man lugging around a giant chunk of gold induce in passersby at art fairs?
"Yesterday," Colombian sculptor Nicolas Cardenas says, "a woman came by and threw herself against the nugget so hard that she fell over. If you caress it really soft, it would go out of balance. But if you are really hard with it, you'll fall."
The nugget is a large sculptural piece by Cardenas called Golden Pebble that also figures into a photography and video series called Man and Gold. The sculpture is available for fairgoers to topple over or caress as they see fit. But in the photos and video, a naked man in an otherwise empty room struggles to lift the nugget and take it through a doorway. It's hypnotic, but not in the way one might expect a video depicting money, nudity and feats of strength to be.
Three angles on a Pebble: that's a good-looking nugget!
Gold mining in Colombia is widely recognized as detrimental to the country's environment and much of the money generated by the mining is leaving the country rather than being invested internally.
"I'm concerned by wealth and how it can bring you out of balance," Cardenas says. "In Colombia, we have the El Dorado legend about an Indian who would bathe himself in gold and jump into a lagoon to offer himself up to the gods. In doing so, he would try to make the rest of the community think he's superior to them. This guy here, he tries to embrace the gold. I wanted the piece to be the size that someone could lift but also large enough to have its own presence. But if he's naked, I don't think we see him as a man but see him and the nugget as something else."
Then again, he laughs, "I also thought it would be really cool to see someone steal a giant golden nugget. But if someone is going to steal it, he has to look funny."
Cardenas is at this year's Untitled art fair with Mas: Arte Contemporáneo, one of two Colombian galleries in the fair, which has been curated this year to have an extra emphasis on Latin American art and video. At least two other galleries at the fair are exhibiting work by Colombians.
"In a way, it's a long time coming," according to Cardenas. "A lot of good work has been done in Colombia for a while now and a lot of eyes are being put on it. There are also two Colombian galleries at Art Basel."
Highlighting massive income inequality is an unpopular stance, perhaps, to take only a half-dozen Maserati lengths away from Ocean Drive.
"I'm not against rich people, because I love them!" But, Cardenas continues, "I'm against how we as humans act when we achieve something. We go blind and stop being ourselves and start wanting more and more. We stop being what in the beginning made you do whatever brought your success. You forget about your dreams and you forget about being the person you wanted to be. You start being fake."
He pats the top of his giant gold nugget and it wobbles. It's not as heavy as it looks, only 140 pounds. The nugget is mostly wood with a lead center to balance what would otherwise tip over. Real 24-karat gold has been adhered to the wood with a glue made from rabbit skins, done the same way gilded altarpieces were made for churches in Colombia's colonial period.
"This piece is a fake piece of gold," Cardenas says. "And it doesn't look like what we think of as gold. But I didn't want it to look like metal. When gold comes out of the gold mine, it's not shiny, it's matte."
Can't afford the photos but still want to have a naked guy lugging a giant gold nugget around your living room? Step one: get a giant gold nugget. Check. Step two: get a naked guy.
"I've known him for ten years," Cardenas offers in an expert's tip. "He's been a model for me and for the classes I teach at Los Andes University. I've seen how he moves. He doesn't just come to the class and get naked, but he shows what he has as a person, as a human being. He's very expressive. He's an actor but he's so real. I didn't want him to act so I told him that and he loved it."
Other things to consider when selecting your naked guy: "I knew he was bald, so I wouldn't have to shave his head."
Being hairless and naked was essential to the effect Cardenas wanted.
"If it was someone dressed, it would distract away from the rock and put attention on the clothes or on the hair, on the person. Also, I wanted the texture of the shape to be in contact with the body so it would look natural what he's doing but also it's absurd. The intention was not to create a sensation, not an 'Oh, look! He's naked!' I just wanted to show it's beautiful. Mankind is beautiful."
As far as we know, there is no dress code at Untitled, however Cardenas has refrained from showing the completeness of his own beauty.
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"I'd rather not be wearing these," he says, tugging at the crisp dress shirt tucked into his jeans. Several sets of bare shins slice past his booth and the sounds of unburdened laughter ricochet through the tent. "Maybe shorts or something like that. I guess I'd rather not be so dressed up."