CORNING, New York — The large display of recent glass art at the Corning Museum of Glass is impressive, not only for the scope of artists and artisans included but the sheer diversity of transformations the medium of glass can endure. Titled New Glass Now, the exhibition points to a larger trend in contemporary art that includes new forms of visual language, new cultural lexicons, and modes of representation and abstraction. It seems natural that glass, a long valued luxury commodity that became easily affordable to the masses during the industrial age, would be incorporated into the art world’s ever-growing purview, which has already engulfed embroidery, textiles, carpets, silhouettes, and other rarer artisanal practices. The exhibition seems to flow easily into the permanent galleries, so which is which can be hard to parse, so I am writing them as a continuum.
Deborah Czeresko’s “Meat Chandelier” (2018) captures the zeitgeist of this exhibition perfectly. She uses a form that echoes the traditions of Murano, the Venetian island known for excellence in glassmaking, but adds the absurdity of rendering a highly perishable item into a gleaming glass bouquet. The result is equal parts kitsch and wonder, and like so much in the exhibition, it pushes our preconceived ideas about the everyday medium into new directions. Then there are some missteps, like the divisions between one exhibition and the permanent collection. Visiting the exhibition with two professional colleagues, it was unclear where one started and the other finished, so the placement of Fred Wilson’s “To Die Upon a Kiss” (2011) in the bleached white, sun-filled space of the Corning galleries felt orphaned, and made me confused which display it was part of — it turned out to be part of the permanent collection. I was later told that the New Glass Now exhibition has distinctive labels, but the experience in the gallery suggested the experience was not very clear.
“Forest Glass” (2009) by Katherine Gray is part of the permanent collection (though she also has a work in the special exhibition) and is one of the pleasant surprises in the museum, as the artist uses found mass-produced glass wear to create conceptual trees that stand quietly in one gallery. The simplicity of the idea sings in the space. Our focus shifts from the individual items, which have the familiarity of a thrift store or grandmother’s cabinet, to its overall configuration, making an unexpected environmental statement that makes you think about how our society has slowly shifted from glass bottles, cups, and containers a century ago, to one choked by plastic and other environmentally unfriendly options.
Despite a number of riveting works, it was unclear sometimes what was being articulated. Bohyun Yoon’s “Family II” (2018) was beautifully staged in a small room, but its clear reference to Renato Bertelli’s “Profilo Continuo (Testa di Mussolini) [Continuous Profile (Head of Mussolini)]” (1933) was perplexing: the role of this reference was ambiguous, diminishing its power and legibility to a wider audience. Other works, like Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova’s “Red Pyramid” (1993) in the permanent collection, were a powerful presence in the gallery, but this and other works, made me realize how the language of glass and more commercial contemporary art diverge. (The married couple is renowned in the world of glass, but far lesser known in mainstream contemporary art circles.) It was unclear how I should be reading Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtoná’s form, which seems as steeped in the history of glass as it is in contemporary art. Additional curatorial explanation would’ve been helpful, otherwise, the technical achievements of this form seem inaccessible to most of the audience. If the worlds of glass and contemporary art are to further intertwine, there’s a little bit of educating that needs to happen before that relationship is crystal clear.
New Glass Now at the Corning Museum of Glass (1 Museum Way, Corning, NY) is curated by Susie Silbert, with guest curators Aric Chen (curator-at-large, M+ museum, Hong Kong), Susanne Jøker Johnsen (artist and head of exhibitions at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation, Denmark), and US-based artist Beth Lipman. It continues until January 5, 2020.
Editor’s Note: The Corning Museum clarified that some of the works discussed were not part of the New Glass Now exhibition and the text has been changed to reflect that.