White black gold and its magical birth

We discovered a great exhibition space – Kewenig gallery. The main exhibition right now is titled “White Black Death Gold” and shows works by E. Friedberg. This exhibition gave us an opportunity to discuss not only the death of gold in the frame of art, but also its magical birth from lead in the process called chrysopoeia, as the philosopher’s stone exists! It is however not a stone.

What:White Black Death Gold
Where:Kewenig Gallery, Brüderstr. 10, 10178 Berlin
When:08.02. – 04.04.2020
What costs:free entrance


The Kewenig gallery, located in the Brüderstraße 10 on the museum island of Berlin, was our most recent discovery, despite the gallery being open in Berlin since 2013. If not for art, it should be visited just for the beauty of the building with its three floors, connected by wooden staircases and ceiling covered with plastering. Most striking is the contrast between the precast concrete building located around the corner and the Brüder Staße, which reminds on the Berlin of past.  After some research we realized that this building is the second oldest building on the museum island and was build in 1688.

The gallery hosts modern art since 1986, as the first gallery was founded then in Cologne by Jule Kewenig. In 2013 it moved to Berlin and in 2004 a second location was opemed in a 13th century chapel in Palme de Mallorca. We we attracted by the vernissage of Elisabeth Frieberg titled “White Black Death Gold” after a title of one of her works.

The exhibition itself provided a striking contrast as Frieberg’s works usually show an unhuman precision of lines, which guide your view, soak it into the maelstroem of straight lines or reveal the background behind them, which can even be just a canvas itself. The canvas Frieberg uses has a fascinating structure and color and as it can be seen in some of the work this contributes visibly to the impression made by the artist. However, in 2019 the artist broke her right arm after a bike accident and could not paint with it. She wouldn’t be stopped though. So besides the precise works you can see the insecure, unsteady, alsmost childish paintings made with the left hand.

From all the works we were most impressed by “Muff, Black, Gold, Center, Beam”, which lets your gaze slide on the shar edges of the gold and black painted lines towards the centrum, where everything vanishes in a singularity of a point. The painting “White Black Death Gold (Center Beam)” uses the same effect and visualises the physical presence the center with a pin, but it has not the same impact due to the decreased contrast as more colors were used. The titles and colors used in Frieberg’s work made us think about why the humanity loves gold so much and this topic we will discuss further below.


Humanity is fascinated by gold since the beginning of the history and was using it as a valuable object. But on which properties is this fascination based? The main source of that fascination are two properties of gold – it is easy to form and it is the nobles of all metals. The first property is important, as it makes it easy to be implemented into ornaments and juwelry, but the second one is even more important, because it allows gold to resist chemical changes for a very long time. This is actually the definiton of being chemically noble. Gold is least reactive metal towards gases and liquids on surfaces (Nature, 1995).

Transmutation or chrysopoeia

Because of the high value of gold early on human tried to get more of it. At least in theory, one of the very alluring methods was to turn a more common material to gold. This method was named “chrysopoeia” or “Philosopher’s stone”. Lead and other base metals is widely spread and cheap. If someone found the method to turn it to gold, it would surely make him unimaginably rich! And so many of the early scientists, who called themselves “alchemists” tried to achieve this goal. Lot of inventions resulted from this search, which sometimes made the alchemists rich and sometimes brought them death. However only in modern times scientists found the philosopher’s stone.

And it turned out that it is not a stone at all. The philosopher’s stone is a particle accelerator (or nuclear reactor, but then reaction is more difficult to control). So modern day science is able to turn lead into gold! But philosopher’s stone is not a stone at all. It is a particle accelerator (or nuclear reactor, but then reaction is more difficult to control). So even it is possible to turn lead into gold, gold created in this way would cost around 1 quadrillion dollars per ounce!

Process of creation of gold from lead

Gold has one stable isotope. An isotope is an atom with same number of protons (same element), but with different number of neutrons. As gold has only one stable isotope, the chance that the created gold isotope decays again is high. Additionally, in 1g of gold consists of 3 x 20^24 atoms. And as the operation of an accelerator costs 5000$ dollars per hour, that results in approximately 1 quadrillion dollars cost for 1 ounce (28.57g) of transmuted gold.

For scientific reasons such transmutation was performed. First time it was produced by G. Seaborg in 1980 (Physical Review C, 1980) and also by Russian scientists by accident in nuclear research facility in Siberia (1972). For most experiments, which aim to create gold from other elements, usually bismuth is used, as it has also one stable isotope only. This makes it easier to separate it from gold.


Gold is valued so much in the society that from early on alchemists tried to produce it from base metals. What alchemists could not achieve in their labs modern day scientists can do in their particle accelerators and reactors. However as philosopher’s stone exists the cost to produce gold by it exceeds any imagination.


  1. B. Hammer, J. K. Norskov. Why gold is the noblest of all metals. Nature, 376:238-239 (1995)
  2. K. Aleklett, D. J. Morrissey, W. Loveland, P. L. McGaughey, g. T. Seaborg. The Energy Dependence of 209Bi Fragmentation In Relativistic Collisions. Physical Review C, 23(3) (1980)

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