Friday, August 3, 2007

Mining glass at MOG

pictured: Wim Delvoye "Melpomen", 2001-2002, Steel, x-ray photographs, glass, lead, 78¾ x 31½ inches, Photo courtesy of the artist

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 2, 2007

“Mining Glass” at the Museum of Glass features installations by eight contemporary glass artists. Some are great, some are interesting but unexciting, and some are just boring.

The big disappointment is Maya Lin, one of the most exciting and intelligent artists working in America today. Lin is the creator of the “VietnamVeterans Memorial” in Washington, D.C., which set the standard for contemporary memorial sculpture. Her “Systematic Landscapes” installations at the Henry in Seattle last year were astounding. But sadly, her “Dewpoint” at MOG is an uninspired toss-off that does not fit well in the space.

Fred Wilson’s “Dark Dawn” is slightly more interesting, but not the kind of thing that makes people ooh and aah. Wilson works with opaque black glass. His installation has black teardrops dripping from the wall into a pool of black glass on the floor. From the floor rise bubbles, a few of which have big, white bug eyes. The whole thing is beautifully serene, but the bug eyes lend a cartoon element that ruins the effect. The wall text explains that the eyes reference racial stereotypes. If it has to be explained with wall text, it doesn’t work.

The best things in the show are installations of a type that I normally do not like because they are overly ornate (Jean-Michel Othniel’s “Mon Lit [My Bed]”) or sensationalist (Wim Delvoye’s “Calliope, Melpomene, Terpsichre, Clio, Erato”).
Othniel’s “Mon Lit” is an ornate, Rococo canopied bed made of steel, blown glass, fabric and mixed media. It is purposely overdone and decadent — a bed in which Cinderella and her prince might make love. It is canopied with steel circles creating a web-work veil with heart-shaped openings, topped with colorful glass balls and covered with a pink blanket that looks like cotton candy. It is beyond sweet.

Delvoye’s installation consists of a series of cathedral-style stained glass windows created with MRIs, X-rays and sonograms of what is described as “cavorting couples and human organs.” It is macabre, sexual, dark and brooding, and absolutely stunning. Skeletons and skulls dominate two of his windows, two others have images of what appears to be intestines, and another features repetitive images of a man and woman kissing, many of whom are skeleton heads. This installation is beautiful in an abstract way when seen as a whole, and fascinating for its detail when studied in depth.

Another piece that I really enjoyed was Kiki Smith’s cast glass “Frogs.” On a white slab raised a few inches off the floor are 20 to 30 frogs (no, I didn’t actually count the little croakers). They range from clearly transparent to cloudily opaque in a narrow range of white, clear and light gray, with a single spot of color in one frog with a gleaming amber head that looks as if it were lit from inside. The overall brilliance of cold and brittle whiteness warms the heart. The glassy amphibians are like fairy frogs hopping happily in a field of snow.

Mona Hatoum’s “Web” is pretty impressive, if for no other reason, for its sparkle and overwhelming size. A web a steel cables and crystal spheres hangs from near the ceiling on all four walls of the center gallery and dips bowl-like to a point almost touching the floor. The clear glass spheres are like gigantic dew drops. The sparkle of reflected light is almost dizzying, and as you move around the circumference the cast shadows seem to dance on the floor.

I was impressed by Teresita Fernandez’s “Eruption (Large),” but I find it almost impossible to describe. You need to see it yourself. And I was left cold and unimpressed by Chen Zhen’s “Crystal Landscape of Inner Body,” primarily because of the unfortunate way it was displayed.

[Museum of Glass, “Mining Glass,” through Feb. 3, 2008 Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 1801 Dock St., Tacoma, 253.284.4750,]

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