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Contemporary glass collection at Allentown Art Museum shows glass as pure art

Post Time:Dec 11,2012Classify:Industry NewsView:402

China Glass Network

Glass has been with us at least from the first century BC, but most of the time we either look through it or drink from it — we don't generally look at it. While the magnificent stained glass windows in Renaissance cathedrals are works of art, illumination was their primary goal.

Glass as pure art, to be looked at primarily for its beauty, is relatively new. The processes for working with glass — blowing, forming, molding, cutting, etching — are as numerous as the shapes and colors it can take. You can take in a sample of its beauty at the Allentown Art Museum, where the Lerner Contemporary Glass Collection is on display.

The more than 20 pieces of glass objects that shimmer, refract, mesmerize and scintillate in ways that few other mediums can, are from the collection of Elaine and Leslie Lerner of Allentown.

The show is presented in conjunction with the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the American studio glass movement. More than 900 museums and galleries throughout the United States this year are observing the anniversary of a modest event that revolutionized the art of glassmaking in America, and subsequently the world.

It all began in March 1962 in Toledo, Ohio, when the director of the Toledo Museum of Art offered Harvey Littleton, a ceramist, the use of a storage shed on the grounds of the museum for a one-week glassblowing workshop.

There Littleton demonstrated how a small, inexpensive furnace he had helped develop allowed artists to melt and blow glass in their own studios. Before that, American artists who wanted to work with glass mostly were designers, relying on glass factories to execute their visions.

Things were a little different in Europe, especially in Italy, where artists already were working their own furnaces. In fact, it was Littleton's visit to Murano in the 1950s that convinced him that a single artist could melt and work glass at home. The pieces created back then were mostly small and functional, such as vases, paperweights and perfume bottles.

Perfume bottles, it turns out, were the first glass objects that the Lerners started collecting, nearly 30 years ago.

"Those little perfume bottles are what first interested us in what you might call 'pretty glass.' Then, in an art gallery in San Francisco, we saw a small Jon Kuhn piece. It was $5,000 — a lot of money back then for a small piece of glass — but we just had to have it. That was really the start of our collecting serious glass," Elaine Lerner says. Since then, the Lerners have amassed nearly 80 works.

That little piece by Kuhn, best known for his highly intricate architectural glass art sculpture, is not part of the show, nor are there any perfume bottles. But one of Kuhn's much larger pieces is on view. "Morning Rainbow" is a stunning laminated glass cube, more than a foot square, displayed as if floating in space. At its center is embedded a multitude of tiny, multicolored cubes that sparkle like colorful fireworks.

The cube is one of Lerner's favorites. "Every time I look at it and twirl it around, it makes me think of the world spinning around, and how fast life is," she says.

The piece is a perfect example of glass as pure art, with no pretense of functionality. Yet glass can be a playful medium that seems to relish taking on the form of a familiar object out of pure whimsy.

"We think of glass as entirely utilitarian, and many of these artists use that to play tricks on us," says exhibit curator Diane Fischer. "There's a teapot that only looks like a teapot, a stringed instrument that can't be played, a basket that's not a basket."

Jose Chardiet's fanciful teapot of 24k gold-plated sculpted glass looks like it escaped from the Mad Hatter's tea party. The surrealistic object appears to be filled with honey-colored "tea" with a long, slender bubble trapped within.

"For years we've seen Jose's work, but Les never loved it — we both have to love it together — so we never bought any of his work," Lerner says. "Then about two years ago we were in the Schantz Gallery in Stockbridge. We had just bought a piece from another artist when Jose brings this teapot into the gallery, and he's just putting it into a display case when my husband looks at it and says, 'I have to have that.' So we have it."

The Lerners don't often buy on impulse, but they do buy only what they like. Almost all the pieces in the exhibit are by recognized artists who have exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide. With the exception of one Canadian, all are American.

"We certainly collect work by up-and-coming artists, but if you're an art glass collector, you want a Steven Weinberg, a David Schwarz, a Lino Tagliapietra," Lerner says.

Lino Tagliapietra is widely recognized as one of the world's premier artists working in glass. Dale Chihuly has referred to him as "perhaps the world's greatest living glassblower."

Tagliapietra's "Dinosaur" is a nearly 2-foot-high blown glass sculpture in pleasing turquoise, cobalt blue and scarlet. Despite its title, it has a soft, sensuous look, with a curvaceous body that tapers to a slender, delicate tail.

Chihuly's work is notable in the show by its absence.

Source: www.usgnn.comAuthor: shangyi

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