I recently reviewed Nature Morte by conceptual glass artist Joanna Manousis for the Toledo City Paper. The exhibit is on view until June 17th at River House Arts in Toledo. This is the artist’s largest exhibition to date and includes pieces made during her residencies at The Toledo Museum of Art in January, 2017 and Alfred University in March, 2017. Read more here
When someone says “art glass” do you think immediately of the colorful, often whimsical and crowd-pleasing objects that are staples of art fairs and craft festivals? Well, think again.
HUSH.ex, a group show of four artists from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art, on view until November 4 at River House Gallery in Toledo, will re-order your preconceptions of what glass as art can be and do.
Working within a narrow range of colors and a broad array of glass types, Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius and Sharyn O’Mara have filled the gallery with a collection of visually and conceptually challenging work that refuses the flashy over-stimulation of the digital age. The easy appeal, saturated colors and fluid shapes of conventional art glass have been replaced by a more austere vision that is expressive of solitude and silence. The artworks are predominately black, white and shades in between; the types of glass include production milk glass, airport grade glass reflector beads, found and second-life glass and more. The artists heat, crack, fuse, burn and pour their way to artworks that push the medium of art glass well beyond its previous aesthetic borders.
Jessica Jane Julius’s Static Puddles are made by pouring black matte glass over shards of canework. The story of their production is evident in the jagged centers of black and white surrounded by the gloppy shape of each piece, but that is secondary to the lyrical appeal of these weightless black blooms. In another instance of prosaic material transcended by the poetic, Julius has applied airport grade glass reflector beads suspended in paint on four panels to create a wavy, translucent river that flows across the wall of the gallery. The title of the piece is Absorption.
Recycled, up-cycled and second-life glass provides the raw material for the works of Amber Cowan. Her installation of commonly recognizable milk glass objects, heated and deformed, transforms these everyday vessels into ghostly memorials to their humble use. In Tall Vase with Thorny Vines, Cowan has heated a production vase, pierced it and collaged ceramic plants into it, shaping it into a matte white still life that is both familiar and surreal.
The work of Megan Biddle focuses on process-driven work that emphasizes the unique qualities of materials and their response to outside forces such as time, growth, erosion, breakage. (In addition to her glass work, she produces installation, sculpture, drawing and video.) Her Further for Now series examines the way that layers of cracked glass can create a kind of line drawing on a hazy, semi-transparent field.
Dog hair, optical fiber and typewriter tape are the eccentric components that characterize the work of Sharyn O’Mara. Particularly prominent in this exhibit are her carbon burn-out “drawings” on glass. These hair-on-glass process pieces are abstract, yet often seem to reference seed pods or plants. They have an ethereal quality, as if they might disappear into thin air, blown away by fugitive winds.
The glass art that is featured in HUSH.ex is neither easy nor pretty nor decorative, but satisfies on a deeper level. These four artists demonstrate that there are many unexplored avenues for discovery in this medium that is so central to the regional aesthetic. They point the way to a creative trajectory in art glass that is cerebral, experimental and conceptually rigorous.
HUSH.ex is the second in a series of museum-quality exhibits organized by Contemporary Art Toledo, a collaborative partnership of gallerist Paula Baldoni of River House Gallery with Brian Carpenter, Gallery Director at the University of Toledo. (Their first exhibit was Beautiful Pig). The goal of CA+ is to provide a showcase in the Toledo area for provocative and groundbreaking contemporary artwork by nationally known and regional artists.
For more information about HUSH.ex and River House Gallery hours go here
Newly arrived from the suburbs, Wasserman Projects art gallery is what I hope the future art spaces of Detroit will look like-clean, well lit, and elegant (and open more than once a week for 3 hours!) The museum-quality treatment that Esther Shevel-Gerz’s Space Between Time receives from the gallery convinced me that I needed to look more carefully at her work than I would otherwise be inclined to, since I’m not a great fan of conceptual art generally.
Esther Shevel-Gerz employs a visual idiom that I would call high academic. She combines video, art photography and text to convey her recurring themes: the fugitive nature of memory, the inexorable passage of time and inevitable loss. Although they are a little forbidding at first approach, her art works are actually fairly straightforward (with one exception which I will get to later). They are a kind of institutional art, each one having been installed originally for a specific museum, school or cultural institution. Shelev-Gertz’s works are related very closely to the sites for which they are conceived and often incorporate the people who work at or attend that institution. You, as the viewer, are called upon to imagine them installed in that setting in order to appreciate them fully.
The most accessible and appealing work, to my mind, was created for the Municipal Library of Vancouver and is entitled The Open Page. It is a suite of high resolution, large-format photos of antique rare books selected by the librarians from the locked stacks of their library. Each one is tenderly held in the disembodied hands of its keeper. The reverent love of the librarians for these beautiful objects is palpable.
The most conceptually challenging work, Inseparable Angels, is a quasi-installation. A video with audio, two black and white photographs, two color photos, a clock that runs both forward and back, and accompanying text are displayed along a back wall of the gallery. All of this was originally installed in the upper story of a house at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. In Inseparable Angels Shevel-Gerz imagines a home for Walter Benjamin, a prominent philosopher who committed suicide in 1940 while fleeing the Nazis. The video records a 15 minute trip from Weimar to Auschwitz. The taxi driver recounts various “sights” along the way, all of which appear only in his memory, as they no longer exist in fact. The 2 adjacent color photos represent sites where now-absent places once stood.
The accompanying text refers to his journal, Angelus Novus. This was also the title of a Paul Klee painting of the same name (which Benjamin owned). In spite of its sweet appearance, this angel was far from benign. For Benjamin this was the angel of history:
“His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”
The work that may resonate most with a Detroit audience though, is Describing Labor, created for the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach, Florida. A split screen video shows interviews with the museum personnel, each of whom has chosen an artwork that shows people engaging in manual labor. The interviews create a peculiar kind of double vision; mind workers talking about manual workers as if they are anthropologists talking about a concept of labor that exists now only as a kind of historical artifact. In a nearby vitrine, the point is driven home even more clearly. Hammers have been cast into clear glass, useful tools no longer having a use.
In the end, to my surprise, I found I liked Esther Shevel-Gerz quite a lot. Her cool, conceptual approach allowed me to thoughtfully contemplate themes that are always in the back of the mind but rarely get our full attention. Her work is also a reminder of the importance of institutions such as museums and libraries. They are repositories of our collective memory that allow us to recall what we might otherwise forget. And she introduced me to Walter Benjamin, who I am coming to know better as I read his essay The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility (more of a page turner than you might think from the title.) So…thank you Wasserman Projects!
Space Between Time is on view until July 9. The gallery, located at 3434 Russell Street, is open Wednesday-Saturday. Parking is available on site. For more information go to http://wassermanprojects.com/