into the heart of glass special supplement

by richard speer

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For three jam-packed days this summer (June 19-21), more than 2,500 art lovers from nearly twenty countries will descend on Portland, Oregon, for the 38th annual conference of the Glass Art Society. To welcome the conference-goers, Portland galleries, museums, institutions, and businesses will pull out all the stops, mounting month-long shows and special events focusing on contemporary glass. It is a chance for the world to experience Portland, and for Portland to experience the world. The mutual opportunity is apropos to the conference’s theme this year, “Forming Frontiers,” a phrase that evokes not only the historical frontier route known as the Oregon Trail, but also the way in which a kind of “forming” associated with Portland’s glass culture-kiln-forming-has expanded the aesthetic frontiers of thousands of glass artists around the world.

With the stars aligning and the throngs descending, this evergreen city is ready for its closeup. In a sense, Portland is situated in the center of the contemporary glass movement on the Northwest Coast-north of the Bay Area (where seminal figures such as Richard Marquis began their pioneering work in glass) and south of the Seattle/Tacoma environs (home of the Pilchuck Glass School and headquarters for superstar glass blower Dale Chihuly). To showcase Portland’s cultural riches, the Portland Art Dealers Association (PADA) and its outreach-oriented affiliate, Art Focus, are working together to showcase what PADA president MaryAnn Deffenbaugh calls “the vibrancy of the art scene here… and the cooperation between the local arts community and our urban planners, who have made Portland such a hub for liveability, sustainability, and good design.” Deffenbaugh is excited about “the connections, networking, and visibility” that will come as a result of the conference, along with “the chance it will give our community to interact with such a diverse group of collectors, artists, curators, writers, and critics.”

Many PADA member galleries will devote their June shows to glass artists. Augen Gallery, for example, will feature the works of Maki Hajikano and Paul DiPasqua. Quintana Gallery will present Glass Arts of Native America, highlighting the work of Lillian Pitt, Marvin Oliver, Alano Edzerza, and Larry Ahvakna. PDX Contemporary Art is showing Megan Murphy’s digital transfers mounted between mirror and glass, fastidiously painted with oils and watercolors, while Pulliam Deffenbaugh goes for a mod, biomorphic feel with the works of Brooklyn-based Jeff Zimmerman. Froelick Gallery will unveil new glass vessels by nationally honored artist Joe Feddersen, as well as drawings on glass plate by Tom Prochaska, which gallery director Carl Davis describes as “delicate, beautiful, translucent, and sometimes erotically charged.” Butters Gallery has tapped Benjamin Moore to curate a group glass show, with a catalogue essay by Seattle-based arts writer Margery Aronson. At the Laura Russo Gallery, Eric Franklin’s work will be on display, as will a special exhibition with guest artists Richard Royal and David Schwarz. Mark Woolley Gallery’s Degenerate Art, curated by Susan Webb, will survey the lowbrow-influenced glass-pipe art movement, whose mostly young artists (known by fanciful handles such as Jag, Bearclaw, Cowboy, Salt, and Ukiah) have elevated a once-taboo medium into a spirited, burgeoning art form. The Elizabeth Leach Gallery presents ambitious glass works by Henry Hillman, Jr., and Deborah Horrell, while Bullseye Gallery mounts a wide-ranging group show of artists influenced by internationally renowned artist and educator Klaus Moje.

Moje, meantime, is the subject of a major retrospective at the Portland Art Museum. The artist, whose close association with Portland and the Bullseye Glass Company stretches back 30 years, will be viewed in a telescoped chronology spanning four decades and 68 works-some small enough to be held in a person’s hand, others so large they need a 24-foot wall for proper display. The museum’s chief curator, Bruce Guenther, organized the exhibition around what he sees as “the painterly qualities of the work: the way Klaus picks up certain kinds of aesthetic ideas about pattern, color theory, and materiality-allusions to and echoes of Anni Albers, the Op Art movement, Bridget Riley, the Greenbergian color field painters-and then takes it to Australia, where there’s an inherent native tradition of painting.” Moje, as Guenther sees it, stood at the aesthetic crossroads of his Western background and the aboriginal art he found in his adopted Australia. “He found all these different streams to dip into, and so he creates objects that have reference to tradition but explode and reorient into an experience that’s purely optical.”

The Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) is another institution mounting a special exhibition to coincide with the GAS conference. From June 5 to July 27, “Translations and Discoveries” will showcase artists from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Mexico-artists whose primary renown is in printmaking and painting, but who have also worked in kiln-formed glass. John MacKechnie, Michael Rand, Christy Wyckoff, and Judy Cooke are among the artists featured, as are Martha Pfanschmidt, Olga Sankey, Hamish Carr, and Rafael Cauduro. Rounding out the exhibition are Eric Stotik, Tom Prochaska, Mark Zirpel, and Peter Olley, along with Steve Royston Brown, Maurizio Donzelli, Narcissus Quagliata, and Jonathan Dady. Curated by Ted Sawyer, the show aims to show a process not of transcription, but of translation, as artists use glass as a medium through which to express their ideas.

One well-known artist primarily known in another medium-in this case ceramics-is Jun Kaneko, who has in recent years begun exploring the translucence of glass. Kaneko’s monumental African Reflections, comprised of gargantuan glass planks in primary colors, will be installed in Portland’s historic Japanese Gardens during the conference’s run. The work and its setting will make for a complementary presentation, says Bullseye Gallery director Lani McGregor. “The sensibility of what Kaneko does is quiet and yet monumental enough to hold its own in the space of the gardens. It has flashes of color with a strong sense of repetition and rhythm, which are elements you see in a Japanese garden.” In the garden’s pavillion will be a separate show of five Japanese artists. These two shows-along with the panoply of glass exhibitions and events coinciding with GAS-serve to highlight what McGregor sees as “the reason that Portland offers something that is really unique: It has managed over the last decade to embrace the broader art field in the medium of glass. By bringing printers, painters, architects, and other types of artists into glass, we’ve really expanded the potential of the material.”

That potential has spread far beyond the mist-kissed Pacific Northwest. The region’s influence on artists far and wide cannot be underestimated. Nationally known glass blower Randi Solin was once a student and teaching assistant at the Pilchuck Glass School. Now, in her Brattleboro, Vermont studio, she updates the techniques she learned in the Northwest with her own innovations. Solin’s richly colored vessels often glint with silver leaf, referencing abstracted landscapes. Notably, she does not consider herself a glass artist per se, but rather an artist who uses glass as a catalyst “which becomes a vehicle for the idea… In a way, I think of myself as an Abstract Expressionist painter, with glass as my medium.”

Far from Vermont, in tony Palm Springs, we find further evidence of glass’ assimilation into the wider sphere of contemporary art. One of the exhibi
tors participating in the GAS Conference is the Palm Springs Art Museum, whose Kaplan/Ostergaard Glass Center is devoted to wildly divergent interpretations of the medium. As museum spokesperson Bob Bogard observes, “The collection runs the gamut from traditional works to more contemporary, innovative approaches. We have some pieces that are challenging, abstract, and unusual; and we have other works that are more traditional, where people are just simply amazed by the beauty and the variety of the material itself.”

For art collectors, the GAS conference presents a superb opportunity to learn more about the medium. A lucky 30 conference attendees will have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at GAS, for a richly nuanced VIP experience. Their guide is Dena Rigby, art consultant and longtime tour coordinator for institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. As the orchestrator of this year’s GAS collector tours, Rigby will guide visitors on a nearly four-day-long itinerary of Portland museums, private collections, and artist studios, with entrée to special events, including a presentation by Australian glass artist and educator Richard Whiteley and a walk-through of the Klaus Moje retrospective led by Moje himself. The tours, Rigby explains, “fill a void, in that they connect artists with collectors-from the entry level to the seasoned-and continue to build a collector base for this important market.”

As a final touch to Portland’s summer glass-travaganza, several businesses in the city’s tres-chic Pearl District will turn their storefront windows into installation spaces. Silvia Levenson’s glass sofas will grace Design Within Reach’s display, while Catharine Newell’s memory-scapes, which evoke crinkled paper, will take their place in the window of Oblation, a stationery store. Several other artists and businesses will join forces in this fashion, as part of the city’s full-on, all-out immersion in the ever-evolving world of contemporary glass.

2008 GAS CONFERENCE MAIN VENUES

HILTON PORTLAND & EXECUTIVE TOWER
921 SW Sixth Avenue, Portland,
Registration, Lectures, Auction, Goblet Grab, Portfolio Review, Technical Display, Education Resource Center, Demo-Lectures. Located in the heart of Portland’s city center financial and entertainment districts, the Hilton’s central location is within blocks of downtown Portland’s best restaurants and upscale shopping.
www.hilton.com

ELEMENTS GLASS
1979 NW Vaughn Street, Portland
Founded by owners Ian Gilula and Aaron Frankel, Elements Glass is a vibrant, state-of-the-art glass studio and production gallery. Located in the Pearl District, Elements makes a significant contribution to Portland’s dynamic artistic environment and the efforts of glass artists throughout the Pacific Northwest. The studio will host demonstrations throughout the conference, and is also the location for the Day of Glass demonstration. www.elementsglass.com

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY CRAFT
724 Northwest Davis Street, Portland
International Student Exhibition. This is an
exciting and historic time for one of Portland’s oldest cultural institutions. The Museum is a vibrant center for investigation and dialogue, expanding the definition of craft
and the ways audiences experience it.
www.museumofcontemporarycraft.org

ARLENE SCHNITZER CONCERT HALL
1037 N.E. Broadway, Portland
Opening Ceremony
including Award Presentations and Lectures.
The beautifully restored Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall opened in 1984, and was originally the Portland Public Theatre, built in 1928.

THE CORNING MUSEUM OF GLASS
Hot Glass Roadshow
Demonstrations
A unique, mobile, state-of-the-art glassmaking studio that houses a 300 lb. glass melting furnace, two glory holes, an iron warmer, and an annealer. It includes a full complement of irons, blowpipes, and hand tools that enable glassmakers to make a wide variety of hand-blown items. 28 feet long and 8 feet wide, there’s no other mobile studio in the world like it. The unit will be set up at Elements Glass during the conference. www.cmog.org

African Reflection, Blue, Red, Yellow 2007 Jun Kaneko, kilnformed glass, 83″ x 204″ x 101/2″
Photo: R. Watson, Courtesy of Bullseye Gallery
[to be installed in the Portland Japanese Garden exhibition Frozen Music: Glass in the Garden, June 14-30, 2008]

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