In a major coup for the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Glasstress Boca Raton 2021, an exhibit of 30 international artists who have created new works in glass at the Berengo Studio in Murano, Italy, has returned to the museum and will run through Sept. 5.
The exhibit, which opens Wednesday, is a sequel to the Museum’s 2016 Glasstress exhibition featuring new artists and new works. Boca Raton is one of only two cities in the U.S., along with New York City, to have ever presented one of these Glasstress exhibitions.
Renowned artists, including Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, Indian artist Sudarshan Shetty, American artists Fred Wilson, Tim Tate and Joyce J. Scott (among others) worked in collaboration with Adriano Berengo and Berengo Studio, and other master glass artisans in Murano.
Originally scheduled to arrive by boat, the sculptures, disassembled piece by piece to be reassembled in Boca Raton by two accompanying Italian master craftsmen, have arrived by air, says Irvin Lippman, the Boca Raton Museum’s executive director.
“These artists have taken an old cherished medium of working in decorative glass and elevated it to a fine art form – something unique, different and more exciting,” Lippman said.
“Thanks to Adriano Berengo and Berengo Studio, we’ve begun to see a more creative use of glass,” he says. “There’s a juxtaposition between glass’s inherent fragility and the drama of the finished pieces.”
Kathleen Goncharov, senior curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, who has worked with the Venice Biennale went to Venice last year and hand-picked most of the artworks in this new show.
“The mission of Glasstress is to restore the visibility and reputation of Murano glass,” she writes in the introduction to the exhibition catalog. “Instead of the luxurious and functional objects for which the island has been known, artists invited to the Berengo Studio create unique artworks and installations, often on a massive scale, that are shown in museums and galleries around the world.”
Most of these artists have little or no experience working with glass, but instead worked with the Berengo artisans to create and collaborate on a new vision using innovative ideas and techniques.
As Berengo writes: “As the name ‘Glasstress’ suggests, glass exists in a state of constant tension. As it morphs from molten liquid to defined solid shapes, glass reinvents itself.”
In the era of COVID-19, glass acts as a perfect medium and metaphor for our time.
After Italy’s initial lockdown — Italy was one of the countries hardest hit by the virus last March — Italian artist Federica Marangoni became the first to participate in this collaboration with Berengo Studio.
“Life is fragile, just as glass is fragile, yet in this fragility there is also a strength,” writes Berengo.
“Despite the pain, despite our fragility, humans continue to thrive,” he wrote. “Glass, too, despite its fragility, endures, even when broken, its power as a medium remains.”
Berengo pointed to certain works in the exhibit that reflect the pandemic.
“Meditative works such as Koen Vanmechelen’s ‘Collective Memory,’ Yin Xiuzhen’s ‘Container of Thinking,’ Joyce J. Scott’s ‘Buddha’ or Marya Kazoun’s ‘The Solitary One,’ ask us to pause again.” he wrote. “Time is something many of us became more aware of in lockdown, how much we had, or how little.”
In addition, Tim Tate, co-founder of the Washington Glass School and Studio, provides commentary on the pandemic with his sculpture, The Pandemic Occulus, which sheds a haunting eye on the faces of those souls lost to COVID-19.
Also on display is the Museum’s latest commission and acquisition – a large-scale glass chandelier, titled Glass Big Brother, by contemporary Chinese artist Song Dong. The piece, with glass-blown surveillance cameras is both poetic and poignant, and will permanently hang in the Museum’s front window facing Mizner Park, as if surveilling the passers-by.
Similarly, Ai Weiwei’s Blossom Chandelier contrasts glass floral petals alongside Twitter birds, CCTV cameras and a raised middle finger, a universal gesture and his response to the Chinese Communist government that imprisoned him for 81 days in 2011.
Not to be excluded, there are works by 14 women sculptors in the exhibit, including Renate Bertlmann, Austria’s representative to the Venice Biennale, known for challenging stereotypes about women and gender relationships.
Her giant glass pacifier and glass flowers, titled Rosemarie’s Divorce, is a continuation of images she has used since the mid-1970s expressing her feelings about sexuality and motherhood. The pacifier lies on a purple bier flanked by two knife roses created in black glass representing the refusal to accept assigned gender roles for women.
“It is a liberating step out of the unbearable situation, which at the same time means painful sacrifice,” writes Bertlmann.
Also confronting society’s definition of womanhood is African-American artist and MacArthur Fellow Joyce Jay Scott, whose sculpture, Buddha (Wind), features a glass avatar of Buddha, magnified by colored glass beads in the artist’s signature peyote-stitch method.
In her sculpture, the wind moves between figures, and social change metaphorically moves like the wind. Through her art, Scott confronts social themes including race, misogyny, sexuality, stereotypes, gender inequality, economic disparity, politics and discrimination.
Best known for her figurative sculpture and jewelry using bead-weaving techniques, blown glass, and found objects, in this work she conveys the story of a woman surmounting life’s obstacles, guided by the hand of Buddha.
The Boca Raton Museum of Art is located at 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Also at the Museum: An Irresistible Urge to Create: The Monroe Family Collection of Florida Outsider Art (running Jan. 27-Sept. 5, 2021); Paul Gervais: Faces and Forms (running Jan. 27-May 30, 2021). For more information, visit bocamuseum.org or call 561-392-2500.