As marijuana inches toward (partial) legalization across the United States, the once-grubby world of glass pipemaking is seeing an artistic surge, with a number of artists crossing over from the subculture and into the mainstream of glass art. Or at least trying to. In an article from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the editor of the 34-year-old GLASS quarterly is quoted thumbing his nose at the trend: “We have found few of these artists seem serious about engaging with issues in contemporary visual art.”
But serious engagement, at least on the institutional level, is exactly what some of these artists are now after, according to that Wall Street Journal report. There’s an upcoming exhibition at Seattle’s Center for Contemporary Art, which has posted an open call for the finest glass pipes in the Pacific Northwest. That show, whose title, “Ceci N’Est Pas Une Pipe,” plays both on Magritte and head shop disclaimers, will be the first such exhibition at an art institution. The article notes the early triumph of Nathan Purcell, who goes by “JAG,” when he submitted a work — a sculpture, which discretely happened to be a pipe — depicting a woman carrying a basket to an auction at the prestigious Pilchuck Glass School in 2007. The work, “Zuri,” was accepted with an opening price of $3,000, and it sold. Reached by the Journal‘s reporter, the Pilchuck director was aghast that a pipe made it into his auction.
But don’t call them bongs, or their work “stoner art.” These are serious artisans — “pipers” — and their work distinguishes itself easily from the tawdry bowls peddled by the long-haired glassblowers of yesteryear:
Known as pipers, the craftsmen say their art form is way higher than the rudimentary pipes shaped like skulls and dragons that their predecessors peddled at Grateful Dead concerts decades ago.
What the Journal story doesn’t note, however, is that a number of contemporary artists have themselves crossed over, or perhaps dabbled, in creating pipes and bongs. Kenny Scharf produced a range of pipes as his Object to Enjoy series for Cereal Art in 2009.
Eric Doeringer has also worked extensively with the medium, his extravagantly complicated gravity and water pipes achieving an engineering virtuosity that would surely impress any couch-locked enthusiast. And the LA art boutique Ooga Booga lists not one but two different pipe artworks: Piero Golia’s “Untitled Sculpture“ (sold out) and Lisa Sitko’s “Ceramic Apple Sculpture (pictured top).