The art of glass has its origins in ancient Egypt and Assyria. Glassblowing originated in Rome in the first century. The beauty and versatility of the medium still bring new innovations centuries later, as can be seen in two new exhibits at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM).
“New Glass Now” at SAAM’s Renwick Gallery, hosted by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, celebrates the creativity of contemporary glass artists from around the world. Meanwhile, an investigation into the museum’s main building, “Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano,” explores the revival of the late 19th-century Venetian glass movement and how it came about. , in turn, influenced the collection, artistic and tourist.
While there are links between the two, there is a story at the Renwick, which was the site of a previous historic contemporary glass exhibition, the 1980 “New Glass: A Worldwide Survey”, also organized by the Corning. Museum. Some of the now famous artists in the Renwick’s permanent collections, including Paula Bartron, Dominick Labino, Karla Trinkley and Dale Chihuly, including the 8-foot Meerschaum and amber chandelier is suspended in the octagonal room of the gallery, are presented in the exhibition “New Glass Then”.
“New Glass Now” features the works of 50 artists, from over 23 countries, and shines a light on previously under-represented communities in the glass world, amplifying the advancement of the art form over 35 years elapsed since the last such survey.
The gallery literally buzzes with electricity bursting into Megan Stelljes’ neon light This shit is bananas with its hot sculpted hanging fruit, and Doris Darling’s dumbbell ““Super Forte” lamp, as well as James Akers’ mix of children’s toys The Savage (B).
The spectacle also amazes with control and beauty. Jeff Goodman’s bent and kiln-cast borosilicate glass from an exterior tile is one of thousands used in the architecture of a magnificent Bahá’í temple in South America; and David Derksen’s laboratory decanters and beakers are precision crafted and highly functional. Deborah Czeresko gets an entire room for her own eight foot chandelier, one supposed to look like hanging choice cups from the butcher shop, Meat Luster.
Ceresko, who is a bit of a rock star in the glass world as the winner of the first season of the Netflix “Blown Away” glass competition, brings a dimension and a sense of humor to her still rather complex work. She’s worked on a series that mixes notions of high and low art, usually with a food theme comprising a set of spirits that replaces the dragon design common to many Venetian revival pieces with an idealized worm of a bottle of tequila.
She is also working on a glass reproduction of a turkey and a chicken. But she Meat chandelier, with its hanging sausage links, has a more serious intention – dismantling the “toxic masculinity” and sexism found amid the smoke, fire and steel tools of the typical glassblowing “hot shop” – a dramatic setting that once drew 19th-century Venetian audiences to the macho workplace.
“I thought to myself: what would I do if I were a female maestro at the time in Venice? Czeresko reflected at a Smithsonian-sponsored artists’ conference in early November. “I wanted to comment on the hot store. I also wanted to make light and make glass food. I combined the two as one iconic vision.
“It’s really about empowerment,” she says, “an alternative approach to being and changing the paradigm of being in the hot store.”
This atmosphere is also evoked in the posters exhibited by Suzanne Peck and Karen Donnellan, Blow harder: alternative lexicons for the Hotshop, in which sexually charged terms and phrases commonly used in the studio receive a charming refresh – Jacks becomes Jills; strip off is replaced by Chippendale, the blow partner becomes a fiery companion.
While the technical mastery of many pieces is impressive, other pieces are effective for their simplicity. Tamas Ábel Color therapy is a commercial glass mirror secured with rainbow colored tape from which it can easily and innocently project reflections of the Pride Flag onto well-known white buildings from the Millennium Monument in Budapest to the Washington Monument in Washington , DC The performance is captured in a two-minute video in the exhibit.
Viewers tend to line up to see the effects of Bohyun Yoon Family II, an elegant glass vase on a rotating base that makes silhouette portraits of his family – artist, wife, child and vice versa.
While some pieces testify to a mastery of form with finesse, others comment on the still fragile state of the medium. Indeed, a warning accompanying the five inflected ships of rocks, bricks and glass, in the painting by Maria Bang Espersen Things change warns that they can “break naturally when exposed”. The exhibition catalog describes the work as a “painfully beautiful reading on mortality and impermanence”.
Many of the pieces in “New Glass Now” happen to come from studios in Murano, the island in the Venetian Lagoon that is the focus of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibit. One, by Austrian Erwin Wurm, entitled Whisper, is a messy injection molded glass representation of a hot water bottle wearing lace-up shoes. Another, bound by Monica Bonvicini, in hot-worked glass with metal buckles, looks like a tangle of men’s trouser belts.
C. Matthew Szõsz Tank uses the same type of delicately strung fiberglass that is also found in the latticework of a 19th century ship-shaped ship, based on a design of the only documented Renaissance-era glassblower to Murano, modeled in 1521.
The fancy vases and goblets that reignited 19th-century Murano glassblowing exhibited in “Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass” have some resonance in the contemporary exhibit, but their shapes and colors may seem necessarily dusty in comparison. . At the time, however, the delicate, colorful and intricate works became very popular and collectable, and their appearance in American living rooms meant that they were also reflected in paintings of that time. Crawford Alexander Mann II, the curator of prints and drawings for the museum that organized the exhibition, said the exhibition “reveals the impact of Italian glass on American art, literature, design theory and the science education, as well as ideas at the time on gender, work and class relations.
“Many of these vessels were used to decorate homes and they appeared in these paintings, to signify taste and elegance and as a way to tell a story about a person,” adds Mary Savig, curator of crafts at Renwick.
The famous American painter John Singer Sergeant was born in Italy and returned to the country all his life, stopping in Murano where he was fascinated by the backstage of glass production and the women who wore long strands of glass before they. were cut into beds, the sheaves of the tubes attracting and reflecting their own light.
This can be seen in the striking life-size oil portrait from 1882 A Venetian woman which became the main image of the show. In it, a model stops while holding a bundle of blue glass canes that will soon be cut and polished into colored glass beads, a major international island export at the time. Five paintings by Sargent are in the exhibition, although his famous 1903 portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, which hangs in the White House, is the source of one of two striking glass mosaic works of American presidents (the other is from Lincoln).
Best represented in the exhibition is James McNeill Whistler, who on more than one occasion has been commissioned to visit Venice to make prints, and (much to the chagrin of his clients) has been more drawn to the city edges and the shabby alleys that it was not the great canals that were the basis of so much tourist art. Ten of his etchings are part of the show.
Other artists include Robert Frederick Blum (including Venetian lace makers highlighted another trade with which the area became known), William Merritt Chase, Louise Cox, Thomas Moran, Maxfield Parrish and Maurice Prendergast, the painter who for some time tried to create images from glass and ceramic tiles.
Two linoleum block prints by Mabel Pugh, recently acquired by the museum, help to draw attention to female artists often overlooked in the history of the time.
“Venice’s famous glass industry has long contributed to its rich history and reputation for cutting-edge contemporary art, with the Venice Biennale art fair,” said Mann. “To this day, Americans are dazzled by this face-to-face meeting between past and present… in the footsteps of Sargent and Whistler to take advantage of its beauty and its creative energy.
“New Glass Now” continues at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum until March 6, 2022.
“Sargent, Whistler and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano” continues at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, until May 8, 2022.