Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Color Ignited: Glass 1962-2012" at the Toledo Museum of Art

The Toledo Workshops of 1962, led by Harvey Littleton, are credited with initiating the American art glass movement. Still dizzy with wonder from a show of Lino Tagliapietra's work, I couldn't then miss Color Ignited: Glass 1962-2012 at the Toledo Museum of Art, a show mounted in celebration of the pioneering work encouraged by then-Director Otto Wittmann fifty years ago. Venetians were plying centuries-old traditions of high art in their hot shops. Ohio had a long history of glass manufactories: Fostoria, Anchor-Hocking, with Libbey and Owens Corning—as well as Johns Manville fiber glass—in Toledo itself. But as recently as in 1960,  American art glass didn't exist. We must thank curators Jutta-Annette Page and Peter Morrin for putting together a show that's takes us back and speeds us forward.
Glass Workshop, 7 pieces
Courtesy of Toledo Museum of Art, William Shelley. 
Littleton, a ceramic artist, was a native of Corning, New York and wanted to use glass as he used clay, as an artistic material. He organized his first workshop in Toledo to be full of collaborators from many academic institutions and from industry. The workshops produced Marvin Lipofsky who established a glass program at Berkeley, and Dale Chihuly who started a glass program at Rhode Island School of Design, founded the famous Pilchuk School of Glass in Washington state, and has popularized art glass nationally. Into these nascent programs Tagliapietra and a few other Muranese artists were invited as guests, and their vast knowledge of traditions and techniques was like rocket boosters added to the eagerness of artists fresh to the medium. The photograph above shows where the Littleton cadre was starting.

Color Ignited doesn't dwell on the backstory, however, but celebrates the ebullience, the sophistication, and the invention that have sprung so quickly from the Workshops. And while the reflections of the world's great glass cultures are seen throughout the show (not only Muranese, but Scandinavian and Czech), there is ingenuity, technology, humor, and characteristic motives that mark this work as American.

Tom McGlauchlin (American, 1934–2011), “Dessin de Bulle” Vase. 
Glass, blown, cased, flashed, cut, 1978. H. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm).
 Toledo Museum of Art. Museum Purchase
 and Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Franklin, 1979.4.
 Photo: Richard Goodbody ©1978 Tom McGlauchlin
Between 1962's beginnings and the perfection of form in this 1979 bottle (right) there would seem to be generations of advancement, especially in the elegantly layered, complex distribution of colors, running from almost pastel blue through raspberry red. The form is classic simplicity, but the internal patterns carry us away. 

Robert Fritz (American, 1920–1986), Vase Form.

 Light olive green glass, blown, applied prunts, 1966.
 H. 7 7/8 in. (20 cm). Toledo Museum of Art.
 Museum Purchase Award, Toledo Glass National, 1966.135.
 Photo: Richard Goodbody ©1966 Robert C. Fritz
Note, though, that the 1966 piece that won the Museum's purchase award in the Toledo Glass National, four years after the seminal workshop, is interesting for form alone: color is the color of the material, and the interest lies in the techniques of blowing and tool-shaping.

The artists' use of color in this show comes unleashed, arresting, wild, or raw. But its use is always one more aspect of a piece that's already stunning for its form, idea, or craftsmanship. Color is the sound of the starter's gun. Toots Zynsky's bowl, City Lights, for instance, is a heart-stopper. It is made of super-tiny glass threads that are fused together so that they do

Toots Zynsky (American, born 1951), City Lights.
Filet de verre (glass threads), fused 
and thermoformed, 1993.
6 3/4 x 13 x 9 in. (17.1 x 33 x 22.9 cm). Private collection, Hoffman-Hall.
Photo: Toots Zynsky ©1993 Toots Zynsky 
not melt into one smooth, "glassy" surface, but remain individually visible, each perfectly lined up between its neighbors, presenting to the fingers an inviting, lightly ridged surface. Both hand and eye are drawn irresistibly to a bowl that will fill up with our admiration.

Dan Dailey, Pistachio Lamp. Illuminated Sculpture, 1972.
 Hand blown glass. Gold plated brass.
14”H x 10”W x 10”D ©2011 Dan Dailey
Dan Dailey's Pistachio Lamp strikes me equally as a thing of beauty and a thing of hilarity. When I saw it, the bulb on top was illuminated and shone a very hot red. Dailey uses "opal glass," which was popular in the 1930s, called Vitroline. One of the delights of this lamp is that  when it's turned on, the  light is self-contained, and the red bulb, rather than casting light, glows like a hammered thumb in a  L'il Abner cartoon
Paul Seide (American, born 1949), Radio Light. 
Glass, blown; mercury and argon gas, 1985. 
H. 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm); W. 16 3/4 in. (42.5 cm). Toledo Museum of Art. 
Gift of Dorothy and George Saxe, 1991.135. 
Photo: Richard Goodbody ©1985 Paul Seide 

An internal light source intensifies the colors of Paul Seide's Radio Lamp too. Seide's lamp is powered by a specially-designed radio transmitter. The glass loops are filled with mercury and argon gas that emit light when excited by radio waves. This, like Dailey's work, takes received glass traditions, handles them with reverence, and introduces them to the technological present. It's the American way.

Glass in a glass box—in a mirrored box, really. With LED lights, and a video monitor. Twilight Powered by Electricity Makes for a Brilliant New Horizon was among several in the show that are conceptual works made with glass. For Andrew Erdos, glass and its properties illustrate his thoughts about reflection, transparency, lightness and darkness, color, invisibility, form and shadow. Yet it felt to me that glass shaped his ideas, which were the real focus of the piece. It was a mixed media work, concepts having the same weight and presence as the physical materials. But glass could never have served such  myriad, complex purposes only twenty years before Erdos made this.

Andrew Erdos (American, born 1985), Twilight Powered by Electricity Makes for a Brilliant New Horizon.

 Mouth-blown glass, sterling silver, video monitor, LED lights, 2012. 62 x 61 x 45 in. (157.4 x 154.9 x 114.3 cm).
 Image courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, New York ©2012 Andrew Erdos 

Deborah Horrell (American, born 1953), Infolding II. 
P√Ęte-de-verre, 2008.
 14 ¾ x 14 ½ x 8 ¾ in. (37.4 x 36.8 x 22.2 cm). 
Collection of Margy and Scott Trumbull. 
Photo: Richard Goodbody. ©2008 Deborah Horrell 
For my own part, my favorites were the pieces in which form, color, concept, and technique were equally balanced and compelling. This probably boils down to taste, spoken in haughty words! But the most astonishing and beautiful to me was a work by Deborah Horrell called Infolding II.  Horrell's technique is called pate de verre ("glass paste"), which is a fusion of crushed glass with coloring agents.  A gallery note said that this process was known in ancient Egypt. It further noted that it is very difficult to make items of any size this way, since pate de verre  is not strong. Horrell's work, at over fourteen inches high and long, is extraordinarily large for this technique.

The vessel has a matte finish, which makes it seem like a ceramic object at first glance. Its color, though, and its ombre gradation from the yellow rim to the melon-green bottom of the cup suggests clear glass—it's like we are looking through the container to the layers of a chilled parfait of tropical ingredients. The rim of the large form does not disguise the crushed glass in the processes, for it is crumbly looking. The colors, though, in combination with the cup shape suggest something icy; the finely broken glass reads like ice crystals that will melt on the tongue.

I also loved BlueRubySpray by Harvey Littleton. This work is dated 1990, almost thirty years after the ceramist assembled friends and colleagues at the Toledo Museum of Art to figure out how artists could work with glass outside of factory settings. Here Littleton has produced colored veins encased in clear glass, which effectively magnifies them. Wherever the viewer stands to look at the piece, she or he sees all the possible angles of the ribbons, displaying more or less of the stripes of color, each revealed in a different way by its particular position. 
The complexity is all in and of the glass and its properties. It changes with the environmental light and the viewer's movements. It also has that other thing I'll admit that I always love in glass: It's shiny! It gleams!

Harvey Littleton (American, born 1922), Blue/Ruby Spray from the Crown Series. 

Colorless and colored barium potash glass, blown, with multiple cased overlays, 1990.
 Largest of the pieces: 17 x 3 7/8 x 13 5/8 in. (43.1 x 9.8 x 34.7 cm). 
Toledo Museum of Art. Partial gift of Ross E. Lucke in memory of Betty S. Lucke, 
by exchange, and partial purchase with funds from the Libbey Endowment, 
Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1992.41A-L. Photo: Tim Thayer ©1990 Harvey K. Littleton 

All photographs in this article are courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art.

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