Thursday, February 28, 2008

Am I Still Shouting to the Wind?
Glass3 in Georgetown

This is the story of a new arts movement -- what is usually called a "school" in art history books -- taking place right here in the Greater Washington, DC area. Allow me to refresh your memory a little and provide some background. Bear with me.

Point One: The British sister city to Washington, DC is Sunderland.

Why Sunderland and not London? After all, most other sister cities to DC are the capitals of other countries - but Sunderland is George Washington's ancestral hometown, so that's why!

Sunderland is also where the United Kingdom has their National Glass Centre and, by the way, glass has been made in Sunderland for around 1,500 years.

When most people think of glass in the art world, they think of craft. A few decades ago, a similar reaction occurred with photography.
Duncan McClellan at Glass3

Point Two: George Koch is one of the District's true art icons: he's a talented painter, the founder of A. Salon, Ltd., a board member of the Cultural Development Corporation, a founding board member of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, a Commissioner of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, board member of Hamiltonian Artists, and the Board Chair of Artomatic.

They don't get much bigger, influential, or harder working for the District's artists and arts organizations than George Koch.

DC area artists and DC's arts scene owes a lot to George Koch.

And George has been working very hard to get the British to bring the United Kingdom's premier glass artists to an exhibition in the US, while at the same time bring some attention to the many and talented glass artists working around the Greater DC region.

I think that Koch recognizes that something special is going on in the DC area with glass.

So Koch has been orchestrating the process to bring the Brits to DC in a major show, somehow tie it to the Artomatic organization, use it to showcase Washington area glass artists, and also tie the whole effort into a nascent Toledo, Ohio Artomatic-type organization.

Yes Artomatic haters... that open, no curators allowed, artist-run extravaganza is growing in other cities!

Point Three: If you paid attention in art school, then you know that Toledo, Ohio is also historically one of the glass centers of the colonies, and an important placeholder in art history.

In 1962, Harvey Littleton, Professor of Art at the University of Wisconsin, (and DC gallerist Maurine Littleton's father) and Dominick Labino (a glass scientist with the Johns-Manville Fiber Glass Corporation), presented a glass workshop in conjunction with the Toledo Museum of Art.

These men are recognized internationally as the "fathers" of the American Studio Glass Movement and certainly the first two to take the seminal steps to bring glass from the high end crafts to the fine arts world.

Convinced that it was finally possible for an individual artist to undertake glass art by working entirely alone - as compared to being part of a glass factory, Littleton and Labino provided information on furnace construction, glass formulas, tools, techniques, etc. They sowed the seeds that eventually sprouted thousands of individual kilns, furnaces and glass studios and schools around the United States and the world.

The Toledo workshop was the beginning of the American Studio Glass Movement. Since then, American glass artists are acknowledged worldwide as the undisputed leaders in creativity and originality and the continuing battle to bring glass to the fine arts dialogue.

Point Four: The final key player in this showcase of three glass centers is the Washington Glass School, bringing to the show about 15 area glass artists who are either instructors of the now nation wide famous content-driven art glass facility, or curated into Glass3.

For years now I have been shouting to anyone who will listen that something new and different has been cooking in the kilns of the glass artists around our area. We have in them artists who are bringing narrative and context to glass, and slowly dragging it away from the vessel and the bowl and towards the fine arts end of the rarified upper artmosphere of the art world.

And now to the actual review... start by looking at part one of a short video on the exhibition below; the second part is at the end of this post.

This show, titled Glass3 since it involves three cities, easily shows why DC area artists are doing something new with glass.

Glass3 opening

But before we get to that, there are some standouts in the works by the Brits and the Ohio artists.

Vanessa CutlerFirst and foremost, Vanessa Cutler from the Sunderland visitors almost steals the show with her gorgeously minimalist pieces in this exhibition. Cutler uses a high technology water jet that can be programmed to cut and shape glass using high pressure water. Her elegant work fits in the dialogue of the minimalists, using as little form and shape to deliver deliciously complex – and thus a paradox – pieces that are the bright leaders of the new British works.

I am not a big fan of vessels and bowls and all of the non-descript “pretty” glass things that always seem to suffocate a glass show – and there are plenty in Glass3 by the way – and yet I was drawn to Kathy Wightman’s (also a Brit) “I am touched” pieces, which are beautiful glass objects wrapped or covered in a truly sensual black, velvety material that almost makes them sexual objects to be desired and touched.

Rounding up the British artists, the also minimalist neon works by Sarah Blood stood apart from the sea of bowls and platters and vessels. Impossibly delicate, Blood married them with objects such as crates to offer us something clean and elegant and different.

Among the Ohio artists, Kristine Rumman’s “War at Home,” stood apart from the rest. Using clear glass as the delivery mechanism, Rumman offers us a rifle firing clear glass bullets. The bullets float away from the wall, casting delicate and watery shadows onto it. It’s a fascinating marriage of the delicate with the heavy and dangerous and works well as the best piece from the Ohio artists.

I found too much of Dale Chihuly’s influence on Homer Yarito’s otherwise technically brilliant work, and unless James Maskrey and Danny White are going for some sort of irony that escapes me, I found their work too cutesy and a little saccharine to enjoy it besides their odd prettiness.

Glass is undergoing a revolution, but unlike most revolutions, there's room for all: both artists and crafts people.

Among the locals Syl Mathis’ elegant boat forms continue to evolve in the right direction and represent some of the best abstracted forms in the show. I also liked Sean Hennessey’s and Kirk Waldroff's wall pieces, where both artists excel at using glass as a mean to deliver complex visual works that demand interpretation, rather than just admiration.

Hennessey and Waldroff
Hennessey and Waldroff at Glass3

Evan Morgan also stands out – he is able to flex his technical skill muscles (always a needed requirement in the world of glass), but also offer up pieces that immediately fit into a modern dialogue and make us not care or ignore that it’s a glass show. Morgan is going places; mark these words. I don't know if Morgan is represented by any DC area gallery, but this guy will be up there one day; pick up one of his pieces now.

“Green” artist leader Erwin Timmers makes his by now solid point about green art with his re-used and recasting of discarded glass and other elements to also deliver abstract works that are as contemporary and new as the art movement that Timmers leads in our area.

video piece by Tim Tate

Enough has been written and said about Michael Janis and Tim Tate.

Their contributions to this show, a life-size scraffito puzzle-like piece by Janis and three of his newest video and technology sculptures by Tate, stand apart from the rest of the show as a Jackson Pollock must have stood out in a group show in the 1950s.

These are leaders in a movement to bring glass to a new place in the arts world, and their explorations of the narrative, biography, technology and skill continue to deliver nothing but success. If you collect DC area artists and have yet to add these guys to your collection, price wise you're almost too late; the get-a-small-piece-for-a-few-hundred-bucks days are long gone and now you better be ready to dish out $8500 for a Tate, and I wouldn't be surprised if those prices double by the end of the year.

Bottom line: a historic art event is taking place Washington, DC (though March 9, 2008). Three educational leaders in today's Contemporary Art Glass movement have joined forces to present a representative survey of the exciting artists and techniques surfacing at these three facilities.

Two of these institutions, the Toledo Glass Pavilion and Sunderland Glass School together represent centuries of a rich glass-making tradition while the Washington Glass School has emerged as a new and vibrant player on this field and is perhaps leading the way to a new future for glass.

The show is at the lower level of Georgetown Park Mall in Washington, DC through March 9th, 2008 and this "International Glass Invitational" was presented as a partnership with Art-O-Matic, and the Sister City Program, with help from the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID).

By the way, once this show closes, the Mall's management should continue to offer this great space to arts organizations for free on an ad hoc basis until they can find a permanent renter for the space. They have not been able to rent it, and it's quite an eye sore (empty) in this tony mall - it looks great now and I am sure that if they allowed arts organizations to use it for free until rented, it would (a) make the mall look better and (b) make a perspective renter more eager to rent it.

But I'm just the cheerleader-in-chief. Video Part II of the exhibition is below.

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