This glass is half full
"Sculpting in Glass" at the Block Museum reveals the heart of the matter
Sculpting in Glass," an exhibition of nearly 50 pieces cherry-picked from three local private collections, opens at the Block Museum on Friday 15. James Yood, a writer and teacher at the School of the Art Institute, curated the show and chose the title for it as judiciously as he did the works. "We wanted the word sculpture because glass has this reputation of still being a decorative material," Yood says. "Nobody treats glass like they would marble or bronze."
Art glass has never gotten much respect from the world of high art. One of the reasons why—and it's not a very good one—is the material's historic tie to utility. But Yood has always considered glass a sculptural material. "About half of the works of the show continue what we call the dialogue with functionality," he says. By that, he means works that are based on vessel forms. For instance, much of the art of Washington-based Dale Chihuly (whose grand, colorful forms filled the Garfield Park Conservatory a few years ago) resembles giant bowls, but one would never use them in that way.
The Studio Art Glass movement began in the early 1960s by artists who chose glass as a medium to make a sculptural or decorative work rather than purely functional objects. Chihuly, glass art's superstar, is part of the first wave. "He's a pied piper for glass," Yood says. The Seattle area is a strong glass center; a large percentage of glass artists in the show live there. One of the city's draws is the famous Pilchuck Glass School nearby, which Chihuly helped found in 1971. Also in the exhibition will be work by Harvey Littleton, considered the father of Studio Art Glass. Littleton established the first art program for glassblowing in 1963 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Chihuly was one of his students, along with Marvin Lipofsky, another glass art master whose work will be on display at the Block.
Studio Art Glass is a young movement, but it's old enough to have a second generation. Dante Marioni is probably the most well known of the second wave of artists represented in the show. Still, Yood encountered a few pleasant surprises while sorting through the collections. One of the young artists he discovered in the process is Austrialia-based Clare Belfrage, who spins thin, long threads of glass around hand-blown glass forms.
"If I could curate the show from scratch it might be different, but just a little," Yood says. One of the artists he would have liked to have included is Chicago-based Lance Friedman, who is represented by Habatat. Friedman just didn't happen to be in any of the three collections participating in the Block show. Well, maybe he will be now.—Ruth Lopez
"Sculpting in Glass," at the Block Museum at Northwestern University in Evanston, is up through August 28.