Blown, cast, cut, colored or clear, opaque or translucent, artworks made from glass have a seductive quality that is hard to resist. Hot Spot: Contemporary Glass from Private Collections, marks the tenth anniversary of the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion. The exhibit, on view now through September 18, includes more than 80 works, many of which are promised gifts to the museum.
Glass, in industry and in art, has a particularly symbiotic relationship with Toledo. When Edward Drummond Libbey moved his family-owned business, New England Glass Works, from Massachusetts to Ohio in 1888, he brought the technical expertise that would make Toledo a center for manufactured glass, first as tableware and then as a producer of electric lights, automobile parts and building materials. Libbey was also one of the co-founders in 1901 of the Toledo Museum of Art and its most important benefactor. Along with initial funds donated for building the museum, Libbey remained a major donor until his death in 1925, after which Florence Scott Libbey continued to give generously to the museum. In 1962, The museum allowed a glass studio to be built in a garage on the museum grounds and with expert advice from glass makers at Libbey-Owens-Ford, the studio glass movement was born. In 1969, the Toledo Museum of Art became the first museum ever to create a glass studio to train artists in the use of glass as a medium. In 2006, the Glass Pavilion, housing the glass studio and the museum’s extensive glass collection, was built.
From my walk through Hot Spot, it became clear to me that glass is a protean medium, hard to pin down or to quantify. Some pieces are very focused on the impressive craft involved (Mantidi Cruising by Emanuel Toffalo), others are more conceptual in ambition (Point of View by Christopher Ries). One of the great challenges in the installation is to create a sense of logic and organization from objects disparate in color, translucency, method, and most of all, in intent. The curator has here chosen to group the artworks by category for clarification (Built Environment, Natural World, Human Figure and the like) but it seemed to me that the objects could have just as easily been organized by color, type of glass technique employed or source of the piece (I found I liked the works collected by Margy and Scott Trumbull the most).
The general effect of the exhibit is a bit diffuse. The space itself has a kind of unfocused quality due to the wall-less, all-window architecture and the variously translucent or transparent qualities of much of the work. I seemed to be looking through things rather than at them much of the time. But in spite of these distractions, I liked some of the individual pieces very much. In particular I was delighted to find a large piece by Steffen Dam, my favorite glass artist of all time. His hybrid blown and hot-worked glass compositions are a magical evocation of the natural world, at once matter-of -fact and ethereal. I also liked Light In by Ann Wolff, a cast glass piece which seemed to illustrate a body in motion over time.
Some of the pieces were a bit too decorative to please and gave off a whiff of art fair whimsy, but on the whole this is an impressive survey of fine art in a medium much beloved in the Glass City.
For more information about the exhibit go here