Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hotshop @ Toledo Museum of Art

Katherine Gray, Installation image, Toledo Museum of Art, 2019, all images courtesy of TMA

There’s more than meets the eye in the exhibition Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hot Shop, hosted by the Toledo Museum of Art.  This intimate exhibition of glass art and glass-inspired art by Canadian-born artist Katherine Gray is a conceptual and immersive show that aspires to give visitors a sense of what it’s like to be in a glass studio, and it does this through touch, sight, sound, and smell.  It’s a multimedia show, but most of the works are glass, and for this exhibition the medium is the message.

Glassblowing is a multisensory experience for both artists and spectators alike, so this exhibition incorporates nearly all the senses.  Upon entering the space, viewers are welcome to touch the various glassblowing tools used by Joseph Rosenberger, a longtime veteran of Toledo’s iconic Libby Glass Company back in the 19thcentury when it was in its first iteration as New England Glass.

Nancy Callan, Paper, Sleeve, Wax, Block. Blown glass, diffusers, motion sensors, 2015. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

Nearby, a sculptural ensemble of four monumental glass vessels playfully subvert the nature of the bottle as a vessel of containment, and they disperse the distinct hotshop smells of steaming wood, beeswax, wet newspaper, and Kevlar, each material of which plays a small but essential role in the glassblowing process—for example, Kevlar gloves are used to transfer the completed work from the blowpipe to a special oven, which safely allows the glass to gradually cool to room temperature over the course of many days (or, depending on the size of the form, sometimes weeks and even months).  For this work, Gray collaborated with master-perfumer Kendra Hart.

Katherine Gray (Canadian, born 1965), Irridescent Aura Diptych. Iridized blown glass, 2017. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

Central to the glassblowing process of course is the furnace, which Gray represents in several minimalist sculptures mounted on the wall. Her Iridescent Aura Diptych comprises two squares of iridized blown glass in which viewers see a radiating sunburst of color.  The colors subtly change and pulsate as we move around the diptych, and in this work Gray abstractly visualizes the tactile sensation of working so close to blinding heat.  Similarly, the two works which comprise the ensemble This Makes Me Think of That also subtly change color when we approach.  Here, Gray takes the furnace and the glory hole (from which glassblowers collect molten glass onto their blowpipes) and reduces them into the elemental shapes of the circle and the square.

Katherine Gray, This Makes Me Think of That. Iridized blown glass, steel, 2015. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

This exhibition’s pièce de résistance is Gray’s glass and light installation A Rainbow Like You.  Here, Gray illuminates a glass table from below, upon which rest a veritable rainbow of glass goblets, cups, and saucers.  Their luminous reflections are cast onto the wall, where the colors merge and mingle in surprising ways, creating a brilliant and immensely satisfying symphony of color.  The glass vessels themselves are created in various historical styles, so the work is a kind of introduction to the history of glassmaking.  The magic of the installation is in Gray’s ability to take common, domestic glass forms and with them create a work of arresting beauty which even evokes the shafts of light and color we might expect to see in grand spaces like Chartres Cathedral.

Kathrine Grey, Installation image, 2019, image courtesy of TMA

After viewing this exhibit, viewers should complete the experience by wandering over to the TMA’s Glass Pavilion to actually watch glassblowers at work.  (Being) in a Hotshop can ultimately only go so far to convey the sights and smells of the real thing, after all. But Gray’s intention was certainly not to replicate hotshop in the first place, and we should be glad—the  glass furnaces blaze at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, after all.  In this exhibition, Gray celebrates glassmaking itself with palpable affection, and it’s abundantly clear that for her the glassmaking process is a labor of love.

Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hotshop is on view at the Toledo Art Museum through May 12

 

 

 

Sensuous Memento @ the River House Arts

Mori Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius, & Sharyn O’Mara – Hush.ex Exhibition at River House Arts, Toledo, Ohio

There are exciting things happening at the Toledo Art Museum, the University of Toledo, and the gestating organization that will soon be on everyone’s radar, Contemporary Art Toledo, this September. Contemporary Art Toledo, the brainchild of Brian Carpenter (lecturer and gallery director at the University of Toledo) and Paula Baldoni (director of River House Arts Space) is currently based in the gorgeous River House Arts Gallery in downtown Toledo. Hush.ex features the work of four artists whose common thread begins with the historically and regionally loaded medium of glass.

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River House Arts, Hush-ex, Installation, All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Once upon a time, glass production was a massive industry in Toledo. Its status as a serious craft has passed out of our cultural consciousness, much as other craft-oriented industries that once anchored Midwestern economies have shifted locus or become altogether obsolete. Toledo, however, has preserved its status as “The Glass City” through a symbiotic relationship between industry, education, and fine art that has guided glass craft through industrial decline, out of factories and into studios, ultimately accumulating an incredible collection of glass art (initially through the patronage of Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey, founders of both Owens Corning Glass Manufacturing and the Toledo Museum).

The artists of Hush.ex (all of whom teach in the Glass Program at Tyler School of Art, Temple University) engage with the historicity and mundanity of this medium that permeates our lives at almost every moment without making its presence felt. The work illuminates that very mundanity, and uses it to begin a dialog about the things we touch, use, and interact with daily, and how quietly loaded with history, both emotional and indexical, this slippery, medium-bridging material is.

Glass is a substance that we live with and touch frequently as part of our daily life. We open windows, handle drinking glasses and plates, navigate touchscreens. We know what glass feels like. And, if you’ve ever been a child surreptitiously handling a weighty, faceted objet de art or a precious piece of porcelain, you know that glass feels good. It’s a crafted substance that invites direct interaction in every way. It’s almost an extension of our bodies, and it’s certainly played a major role, historically, in preserving our experiences in sensuous, precious, yet powerful cartouches. The artists featured in Hush.ex tap directly into that sensuous, indexical role glass possesses (to a maddening degree- I’ve never felt a stronger desire to touch works of art in an exhibition).

Amber Cowan’s turgid glass sculptures channel both mid-century gewgaws and the horror vacui principle of nature to craft strangely familiar, subversively scaled vessels and wall pieces that burst with an uncanny appropriation of organic growth and mind-numbing decorative beauty. Her works bear such titles as “Wedding Compote with Thorny Vine,” and “Candle Stick.”

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Amber Cowan, Rosette Milk & Ivory flame worked pressed & sheet glass, mixed-media

The works of Jessica Jane Julius dialog with mundane objects of a very different order- the ephemeral static and digital flickerings that glass bears into our environment via television and smartphone screens. The buzzy surfaces and odd static/dynamic quality of her installations speak to the mercurial loyalties of glass, as an almost magical medium between our reality and pure, abstracted information.

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Jessica Jane Julius, Extruded hot pulled & kiln cast glass, metal – 2016

The theme of glass as a vessel for memory brought uncannily into real space is most directly engaged by Sharyn O’Mara, whose pressed glass burnout drawings most directly reference Nineteenth Century memento mori keepsakes. Such objects were meant to preserve a physical trace of a deceased loved one available for viewing through impenetrable glass. Through an intense process of compressing objects between panes of glass and firing them into carbonized fossils, O’Amara has preserved, among other keepsakes, tufts of hair from beloved dogs that caramelize in their pressed glass coffins into delicate, snowflake-like strata of tangled tendrils that reference lovely, closely observed charcoal drawings.

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Sharyn Omara, Botanical 4-carbon burnout drawing on glass, 2016

Megan Biddle’s sculptures also invoke drawing, taken off the wall into three dimensional collisions of line and material. Again, there is a reference to preservation and enclosure here- her home appliance scaled sculpture “Converge” occupies a corner of the gallery like an old-timey television set, transmitting a quiet meditation on converging, geometric lines rather than moving bites of information.

The overarching theme of preservation of historical, beloved objects and memories within this medium that feels simultaneously earthy and ephemeral, tactile and fragile, inviting and forbidding to touch.

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Jessica Jane Julius, Static puddle hot pulled & kiln fused glass, 2016

Hush.ex coalesces into an incredible synesthesia of memory, digital ephemera, and physical preservation all encompassed, like Snow White, in a sensual and impenetrable glass coffin. There’s much potential for touchstones of communication in this medium that feels simultaneously earthy and ephemeral, tactile and fragile, inviting and forbidding to touch.

It’s the rare medium that straddles craft, fine art, and daily life on such equal footing. Hush.ex both awakens the viewer to sensual beauty, and stands as a reminder that such beauty is all around, within grasp, at all times.

Hush.ex is on view at River House Arts in Toledo, Ohio, September 15 through October 31, 2016

River House Arts

Colnaghi @ Wasserman Projects

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Frans Francken, Feast of the Gods, Oil on Panel – A landscape with Theseus and Achelous, with the Triumph of Poseidon and Amphitrite beyond Frans Francken the Younger / Antwerp, 1581 – Antwerp, 1642 Joos de Momper the Younger / Antwerp, 1564 – Antwerp, 1635 Signed lower left :Dᴼ FFRANCK. IN.E.F. Oil on panel, 72 x 157 cm. (28 ½ x 61 ¾ in.)

The Wasserman Projects opened a new exhibition, Old Masters / New World from the Colnaghi Gallery of London, for a limited time, September 7-11, 2016. The work includes major painting and sculpture by such artists as Frans Francken, Gaetano Gandolfi, Jusepe de Ribera, and Pedro Duque y Cornejo.

Gary Wasserman, Founder of Wasserman Projects says, “We share Colnaghi’s vision to connect the historic with the contemporary, and to show art in a diversity of contexts and through a wide range of collaborations. To be able to show these tremendous Old Master works in the contemporary, industrial-style setting of our exhibition space is an exciting proposition that highlights the connection between the past and present and offers a new way of experiencing both the art and the space.”

If you look at the trajectory of Wasserman Projects, set in a former firehouse in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, the work on exhibition there has been contemporary and at times conceptual. The gallery works with artists from across disciplines and around the world, presenting exhibitions and performances that spark a discourse on art, but also cultural, social, or political issues, which are particularly active and timely in Detroit.

In attendance for this opening was Jorge Coll, CEO of Colnaghi, “We are thrilled to build on our long and storied history in America by holding our first exhibition in Detroit, and to be doing so in partnership within many of the greatest American museums and collections, including ones in this city. It is in this spirit of engaging new and existing communities of arts enthusiasts and collectors that we are holding Old Masters / New World in Detroit. We see our vision to present Old Master works across a wide range of locales as parallel to the missions of museums and universities to educate on the arts.”

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Fray Juan Bautista Maíno “The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist” Pastrana, 1581 – Madrid, 1649, Oil on Canvas 110.5cm x 92.5cm

The painting, The Holy Family, reminds this writer of how popular it was in the 14th through 16th centuries to paint the Madonna and Child. Here, the artist Stozzi,  includes Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the young child Jesus, reminding us of the age difference, and provides the audience with a direct and comforting look from the mother. When I first read and studied the work of Giovanni Bellini, it was amazing how many paintings he made of Madonna & Child. People of wealth during these times, would commission a painting for their home, and because Catholicism was the dominate religion, there was nothing more pure and sacred than this image. One gets the impression there was tremendous status in having such a painting in their home. So the answer to the question is that it was very lucrative for artists to make so many of these paintings. The only question raised here is who is the child at the bottom of the painting who draws the attention of both Jesus and Joseph with the halo? The answer is his cousin, John the Baptist.

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Giacomo Ceruti, Kitchen Still Life, 84 X 118 cm, Milan, 1698 – 1767

Still life paintings were popular during this time period. In Kitchen Still Life, the painter Giacomo Deriti produces a classic realistic composition that easily sets the stage for painters to come a century later. These near photo realistic images (before the invention of photography) are composed and lit, which provides the artist with an unlimited amount of time to compose, draw, under-paint, and add reflective details. Elements of illusion are magnified by having the knives come off the front edge of the table, while at the same time create a balance of shape and form with the light source coming from the upper left.

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Juan van der Hamen y Leon, Abraham and the Three Angles, 279 X 181cm, Madrid 1596-1631

The Spanish painter, Juan van der Hamen, was born in Madrid in 1596 and was recognized for his allegories and landscapes during the Baroque period. A prolific artist, van der Hamen painted all his works during the first decade of the reign of Philip IV. As a religious painter Hamen worked for several religious institutions in and around Madrid and Toledo, like the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales, in Madrid, for which he painted altars. The best surviving examples of his religious work are in the cloister of the Royal Convent of La Encarnación in Madrid, painted in 1625 in a naturalistic tenebristic style. The painting Abraham and the Three Angels is known for the stylistic characteristics and the iconographic interest of the scene, by which the artist interpreted the Biblical theme of the apparition of the three angels in the house of Abraham to announce that Sara would conceive a son.

So why is it important for young people today to experience this work, both in galleries and museums? Let me start by saying that many things that are part of human history continue to enrich our lives: Mathematics, Philosophy, Literature, Music and certainly Art. Do we not still listen to Bach and derive meaning that connects us to all music, and can we not still relate to the allegory in Dante’s Divine Comedy? For Wasserman Projects to bring this experience to Detroit creates the opportunity to expose Italian and Spanish Renaissance Painting to an audience that may not have thought of the connection that all art shares.

Wasserman Projects demonstrates that it is guided by a spirit of collaboration, recognizing that art is best realized and most meaningful when it engages the broad range of people such as the dynamic and diverse population of Detroit.

Wasserman Projects, September 2016