No single artistic school or style provides the narrative line in the Museum of Glass’ terrific new exhibit, “Links: Australian Glass and the Pacific Northwest.”
Instead, the show, curated by Seattle’s Vicki Halper, focuses on a whole history of artistic exchanges. Some of the names involved — Dante Marioni, Richard Marquis — will be familiar to Seattle glass-art devotees. Others will be new.
As for the work on display, it encompasses both blown glass and distinctively different kiln-formed glass, and it ranges from austere minimalist fare to cartoonlike whimsy.
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The story that “Links” tells begins in the 1970s and runs along two parallel tracks.
The first involves Marquis, who in 1974 was invited by the Australian Council for the Arts to spread the word on glass art and set up hot shops in Australia. He soon joined forces with Australian handyman/welder Nick Mount, who turned out to have a knack for glassblowing (works by both men are featured in “Links”). Mount eventually became the glass-studio head at JamFactory in Adelaide. And by virtue of the success of “the Jam,” Adelaide soon became the center for blown-glass art in Australia.
The key figure in the second storyline is German glass artist Klaus Moje, who in 1979 was invited to Pilchuck Glass School by Dale Chihuly. Moje’s specialty, fused and wheel-cut glass, had caught Chihuly’s eye, perhaps because it was so different from the blown-glass possibilities that Chihuly and his fellow Pilchuckers were exploring.
The aesthetic sensibility behind Moje’s dishes and panels — prominently displayed in “Links” — was more “ceramic” in character than Chihuly’s work. But the kiln that he needed for his creations wasn’t available at Pilchuck — a source of frustration to him.
Nevertheless, Pilchuck brought him good fortune by introducing him to Boyce Lundstrom from Bullseye Glass Co.
, a Portland-based sheet-glass factory. Lundstrom was, as Bullseye co-owner Lani McGregor puts it in her catalog essay, a “notorious zealot of fusing.” Lundstrom and Bullseye were sure they could be of service to Moje, and a yearslong collaboration followed in Portland.
Together, Moje and the folks at Bullseye solved the key problem in working with kiln-formed glass: getting the different color bars being fused together to expand and contract at the same rate so that the artwork wouldn’t crack apart upon cooling. When Moje was invited to become founding director of the Canberra School of Art Glass Workshop in 1982, he brought the kiln-formed-glass research and technique of Bullseye with him, and another Australian-Pacific Northwest link was forged.
Lineage and technicalities aside, what’s the art like?
There’s something here for all tastes, and that’s part of the pleasure of the show. You can see one sort of possibility — Marquis and Marioni’s fanciful collaborative teapot goblets, for instance — triggering another sort of possibility in Mount’s towering “Scent Bottles.”
Marquis’ more fanciful vein of solo work (“Crazy Quilt Coffeepot” from 1974, “Elephant in Boat on Wheels” and “Razzle Dazzle Boat with Shark Fin” from the past decade) is a direct influence on the zany blown-glass pieces of Tom Moore, whose “Massive Hooligan” (an upside-down giant kookaburra wreaking playful havoc with a car) and “Plant-Powered Island” (a potato doubling as a tropical island on the move) are the best jokes in the show.
Totally opposite in effect, but as impressive in its way, is Gabriella Bisetto’s series, “The Shape of Breath.” These gray, warped spheres have a powerful, mysterious presence. Mel Douglas’ even darker abstractions (especially “Either Way”) and Nadège Desgenétez’s silvery hybrids of human and arboreal limbs (in her “Landscape of the Body Series”) prove you don’t need color to achieve a haunting effect.
Clare Belfrage’s work, while similarly abstract, isn’t quite as minimalist in character. Instead, her compact vessels, which have a monumental feel to them, boast rich colors and complex surface textures created through cane drawing (using molten glass cane to ornament a surface).
Moje’s kiln-formed fused glass pieces, for anyone who hasn’t seen them, will be a revelation. He had mastered his technique by 1978, when he brought it to Australia. But within a decade it was clear that Australia was having as much influence on him as he’d had on the country’s kiln-formed glass scene. In pieces from the late 1980s onward, colors interlace, collide and shimmer in spectacular manner, feeling both lavish and disciplined: the most meticulous eye-candy imaginable.
Moje’s closest Australian heir may be Giles Bettison, who combines blown-glass, fused-glass and other techniques to create vessels that, like Moje’s pieces, seem to pay homage to Aboriginal paintings in their rich colors and intricate patterning.
Other artists working with kiln-formed glass achieve entirely different effects. Jane Bruce brings an Op Art eye to her milk-white sculptures accented in primary colors. Brenden Scott French conjures rolling Australian rural landscapes out of glass.
In “Further from Here,” Jeremy Lepisto creates a 3-D urban diorama consisting of three blue-tinged standing lozenges of glass with cityscape details layered within them. The landmarks seem to shift position as you move around the piece.
A couple of the minimalists are austere to the point of feeling sterile. What’s fun about the show is how so many different styles and personalities form part of the same story.
The Museum of Glass is also hosting two other beguiling shows, both curated in part by interns from the University of Washington, Tacoma, with oversight by museum curator David Francis.
“Northwest Artists Collect” (through Oct. 27) juxtaposes work by glass artists Martin Blank, Joseph Gregory Rossano, Richard Royal, Ginny Ruffner, Preston Singletary, Cappy Thompson and Dick Weiss with things they collect. It might be Native American kitsch in Singletary’s case, marionettes in Blank’s, or garden plants in Ruffner’s.
“Benjamin Moore: Translucent” (through Oct. 20) showcases the refined sensibility of a Seattle artist who’s devoted to “simplicity of form” in his work. There’s something almost cosmic in the orbs, rings, ellipses and coronas that comprise his luminous glass assemblages.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com