Sorry, ashtray-looking accents, candleholders and paperweights. Glass is done with being polite. It has traded its smooth curves and comfort zone for thorns, a strong pulse and a lot of nerve.
The underestimated medium long thought of as merely decorative is now demanding acknowledgment through daring shapes, provocative themes and stunning colors. Glasstress, a show featuring 46 glass pieces by 33 artists from around the world, makes that point crystal clear. On view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art through July 2, the pieces are graphic and defiant.
Joana Vasconcelos’ bright Blue Velvet chandelier is the first to pierce our eyes. Small LED lights illuminate the blue Murano glass dressed up in polyester. Golden sequins add a shimmering effect to the handmade golden woolen crochet crowning the narrow blue vessels. The pairing of textures and hues has a dramatic effect.
Nearby, we find a more somber installation by Hans Op de Beeck: The Frozen Vanitas. Inspired by Dutch memento mori still-lifes from the 17th century – known to feature skulls, rotten fruit and extinguished candles – Op de Beeck sets his table with a skull, grapes and candles. The modern twist consists of a disposable cup with straw, a lighter, high-heels and a cellphone. The use of opaque glass is a fitting choice that lends the scene a ghostly quality. Vanitas, after all, is meant to remind us of mortality and advise us against indulgence and vanity.
Given that the artists who created the works at the Berengo Studio in Murano, Italy, don’t usually work with glass, one would expect to find frigid objects evoking as much emotion as a freezer. Not here. When not blowing us away with color and fluid motions, as Marta Klonowska’s The Fish, the works impose inconvenient realities, as Erdağ Aksel’s Crescent Disabled does through glass crutches engraved with grenades.
Clear police batons hold their heart-shape formation against the wall in Kendell Geers’ Cardiac Arrest VIII. In the middle, the pairs form crosses. The glass batons will remain intact, Geers suggests, so long as people conform. They are the weapons awaiting those who demand social reforms.
From a distance, Song Dong’s Glass Big Brother looks like a gothic take on the classical Venetian chandelier. Give it time. The Orwellian-inspired piece slowly unveils the troubling details shaping its stark black glass body, which hangs from the ceiling. The five-tiered creature is clearly set on documenting everything. Its vertebrae-looking arms hold LED-lit surveillance cameras that cover every angle of the room. Nothing escapes it.
While being watched is often presented as a necessary evil, the overabundance of cameras here presents it as an excessive measure with a high price. Its chandelier facade distracts us from the sinister mission, and that bares the question: if given a sparkling justification, would we happily and willingly give up our rights?
The gallery rooms in Glasstress are cleverly balanced in intensity and color. The most breathtaking works are spaced out and paired with tamer ones as to allow visitors sufficient time to have an emotional reaction at a time, not simultaneous strokes. That’s a good thing, because it takes a long time to recover from the epic battle taking place in Javier Pérez’s Carroña (Carrion). Stuffed crows take turns picking at the red flesh of a defeated animal bleeding to death on the floor. The glass bloodstain patterns are fragments of a Rezzonico-style chandelier featuring floral motifs that the artist purposely dropped on the floor and smashed to pieces.
The crows’ black eyes focus on the feast. Their sharp beaks tear the raw translucent meat. It is a glorious moment for the birds, which stand victorious as if they had played a significant role in bringing the beast down. This vivid picture of life and death has transformative powers. It is the sort of finding that forever alters the senses and inevitably blurs whatever follows it.
Glasstress is the latest in a series of exhibits that wish to push the notions about craft and elevate it. It is nothing like the contemporary studio glass exhibit the Boca Museum presented five years ago. To admire these pieces for their arresting color and form instead of the social, political and environmental message they carry, feels slightly wrong.
Glass wants to be loved for its smarts, not its looks alone. It should have thought about that before.
Glasstress is on display at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park in Boca Raton, through July 2. Admission: $12. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. first Wednesday of the month; 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays and holidays. Call 561-392-2500, or visit www.bocamuseum.org.