Thursday, November 17, 2011


John Miller and Friends at Museum of Glass

“QUATRO HOMBRES AZUL”: A work of blown, painted and hot-sculpted glass by John Miller and Therman Statom Photo courtesy MOG
This exhibition of collaborative work by John Miller and a dozen or so friends is cute and well crafted. Some of the pieces - all giant goblets - are beautiful, most are inventive, and a lot of them are funny. The exhibit, Gathering: John Miller and Friends, combines traditional glass art with a wide variety of art genres such as Pop Art and Color Field painting and Surrealism.

The sheer size is impressive. I'm told most of the pieces are around four to five feet tall, which is an astounding feat for glass blowing. But for all it has going for it, I have a hard time thinking of this show as serious art.

Nevertheless. Does art have to be serious? Can't it just be fun? It's also hard to take seriously the work of artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Red Grooms and Jeff Koons, yet they're all respected artists. So let's give a little respect to Miller and his friends.

Each piece in the show is a goblet. Miller created a few on his own, perhaps with a team of hot shop helpers. But most were done in collaboration with other artists, many of whom are already familiar to Museum of Glass patrons. Martin Blank, for instance, who did the huge outdoor installation "Fluent Steps" in the plaza pool. And Rik Allen and the brothers Jamex and Einar de la Torre and Paul Stankard, who has his own solo show, The Beauty Beyond Nature, which just opened in another of the museum's gallery.

In most of the pieces traditional goblets sit on top of stems that are glass sculptural forms that can range from abstract to figures to hamburgers and rocket ships. The wall labels do not explain it, but it seems obvious from looking at them that Miller did the vessel parts and the other artists did the stems. In most of the pieces the primary visual device is the contrast between the two parts, but in some, such as "Quiver Cup," done in collaboration with Blank, and "Quartro Hombres Azul" by Therman Statom and Miller, the art is in the beautiful blending of contrasting styles.

Statom's piece is a simple, classical goblet with surface drawing in a roughly expressionistic style with soft colors and expressive line work. It looks like pastel, but it's obviously not. This is a truly beautiful piece and perhaps my favorite in the whole show.

The piece done with Blank features a contrast between a minimalist goblet in clear glass and maximalist crinkled, bubbled, twisted, translucent stem by Blank that is clearly similar in style to the forms in his "Fluent Steps."

Rik Allen has shown his blown glass space ships in other MOG shows. They look like a 1950s idea of what the space ships of the future might look like. Think Jules Verne and Lost in Space. The forms are bulky with a darkly metallic, opaque surface. In this one a blue goblet sits on top of the rocket, and the coloring and surface quality the goblet matches that of the rocket ship.

Another favorite is "Cupping Elegant" with Ross Richmond. It is a smoothly sensual figure with a single arm and hand not connected at the shoulder but extended outward from the side of the figure's chest. Very strange yet lovely in a dark red color that is almost black.

This is a fun show, and you can see it and the new Paul Stankard show in a single visit. What a bonus!
[Museum of Glass, Gathering: John Miller and Friends at Museum of Glass, through June 10, 2012, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, $5-$12, 1801 Dock St. Tacoma, 866.4MUSEUM]

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