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‘First Rate Glass’ at Racine Art Museum

Art Review

Mar. 31, 2010
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Glass is everywhere. From windows to mirrors to drinking vessels, glass permeates everyday life. When assembled, blown or cast with a master touch and vision, glass can even transform into fine art.

This ordinary material with contrasting properties—durable or fragile, conventional or exquisite, opaque or translucent, decorative or functional—allows the artist a multitude of expressive options. The current exhibition at the Racine Art Museum, “A Glass Act: First Rate Glass from RAM’s Collection” (through June 6), celebrates this impressive art medium, which developed rapidly when small-scale kilns became accessible to studios during the 1960s.

The RAM collection features numerous pieces from internationally renowned glass artists, including Dale Chihuly, Harvey Littleton, Richard Marquis and Joel Philip Myers.

Marquis’ The New Pettijohns isa rainbow-hued array of delicate Venetian shot glasses irreverently empty or filled with reclaimed objects such as old dice. Juxtaposing the luxurious with the reused heightens one’s awareness to every object in the petite, wall-hung shadow box.

Perhaps two large glass sculptures in the collection better define the utter contrast and complexity of this medium.

On a large platform facing the eastern window in the first-floor gallery looms the immense Topaz Bust in glass and copper by Hank Murta Adams. One must closely observe this opaque sculpture with the mottled skin and textured surfaces before understanding that glass forms the head and shoulders. Copper eyes and disheveled strands of hair oxidized into a verdant green complement the burnished bronze roughness to a face that envisions a creature cut from a bizarre dream, similar to Caliban in Shakespeare’s Tempest,or a male Medusa. The wild-eyed emotion in this massive visage appears to release a fierce and mysterious force.

Across the gallery, facing the western window and perched on a large rectangular pedestal, Carol Cohen’s sculpture Little Compton captures the translucent qualities inherent to glass. The 50 clear, square slabs, closely layered one behind the other with a tiny space between them, creates a picturesque scene with paint and mixed media applied to the glass sheets.

From all sides, the transparency provides a tranquil reflection on a shoreline landscape, literally and figuratively, with a written text that appears on the sculpture. The text, from poet Sarah Helen Whitman’s journal excerpted from the historical anthology Notes on Little Compton,describes a summer in Seaconnet, R.I., and amplifies the visual display.

These two superb examples defy expectations for the medium of glass. And the idea of glass as fine art should only continue to expand with newer technological advancements. The RAM’s permanent collection documents this significant art movement with clarity and forward-thinking vision—even if the glass appearing before one’s eyes each day goes unnoticed.


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