Reflecting on Contemporary Glass: a Q&A with recently-retired curator Tina Oldknow

Tina Oldknow has been a vital part of The Corning Museum of Glass since 2000, when she became the curator of modern glass, responsible for all curatorial aspects of the glass collections dating from 1900 to the present. During that time, she managed countless acquisitions to the collection, curated successful shows including Voices of Contemporary Glass: The Heineman Collection and Making Ideas: Experiments in Design at GlassLab, curated the inaugural exhibition in the Contemporary Art + Design Wing, and became an integral part of the glass community.

Just prior to Tina Oldknow’s retirement in September, we asked her a few questions about her tenure here.

Tina Oldknow.

What would you say was the highlight of your career here at the Museum? The opening of the Contemporary Art + Design Wing, of course!!

What was your favorite program to be involved with? GlassLab, the Museum’s signature design program. I think is one of the Museum’s most potentially influential programs.

Tina Oldknow during a GlassLab session.

Tina Oldknow during a GlassLab session on Governor’s Island, NY.

How many exhibitions have you curated during your time here? What was your favorite? I curated many small shows from the collection, which I enjoyed, and a few summer special exhibitions – I think about 18 total. One of my all-time favorites was Curiosities of Glassmaking in 2007, because I got to look in every drawer and through every shelf in storage, looking for unusual, odd, or curious objects from all time periods. [Hear from Tina on one of these oddities—the glass coffin—on Hyperallergic]

What is your fondest memory from interactions with artists? One fond memory I have is of Andrew Erdos shooting a video at Alfred University with hot glass and fire. It was pretty extreme. The fire alarms went off, the police came, and Andrew handled them beautifully. Meanwhile, the crowd dispersed, not wanting to be anywhere near where police were.

Most importantly, I get inspired by talking with artists, who are the real thinkers and philosophers in our society.

How many pieces would you say you’ve acquired in the time you’ve been here? I have acquired hundreds of objects through gifts and purchase in the 15 years I have been here.

Tina Oldknow and Bill Gudenrath examine Emile Gallé's 'Les Hommes Noirs.'

Tina Oldknow and Bill Gudenrath examine Emile Gallé’s ‘Les Hommes Noirs.’

What is the strangest way you’ve discovered a piece you then knew you wanted to add to the Museum’s collection? The Museum’s important Dreyfus vase, Les Hommes Noirs (The dark men), by Emile Gallé and Victor Prouvé, came to my attention from the Museum’s general curatorial email address. Generally, we know most of the glass dealers around the world, but we did not know this one.

For you, what made a piece of glass worth adding to the Museum’s collection? There are so many different reasons for adding objects to the Museum’s collections. The reasons for adding a large contemporary sculpture will naturally be much different than the reasons for adding an Art Nouveau vase or a mid-century design for kitchenware. Two things that are always important are innovation and high quality, and the more aspects of a work that hit those marks—technically, conceptually, historically—the better.

What will you miss most about the Museum? The people, including the staff at the Museum with whom I have worked most closely, but also the network of amazing artists, super-smart curators, and a few really important (to me) collectors who I have come to know over the years.

How will you remain involved with the glass community? I hope to continue writing about glass. There is so much to say.

Tina retired from the Museum on September 30.

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