Material Culture by Beth Lipman is a favorite of Katie Fielder, Guest Services Associate at the Museum.
While there are many pieces in the Museum that I love, the one that I can best label as my favorite is Material Culture by Beth Lipman.
My first experience with this piece came while I was still a new employee in the Guest Services department. It was the end of a long summer day when a guest came to the Admissions Desk in a near panic. She told me that a piece in our collection was broken and parts of it were on the ground. Being a new employee (and not yet familiar with the collection), I followed her to Material Culture where, sure enough, pieces of Lipman’s sculpture were lying in shards on the floor. I nervously called Security. As I waited, I studied the piece, now noticing that many of the glass parts in this large sculpture were, in fact, broken. Moving onto the description on the accompanying placard one sentence stared back at me: “Some of the vessels in this still life are intentionally broken.” This was my first (and most unforgettable) lesson in the flexibility of glass as an artistic medium.
The meaning behind Material Culture is an obvious one: the functional objects that make up the piece (vases, drinking glasses, etc.) are carelessly tossed and precariously balanced on a too-small table, pointing to society’s obsession with and overuse of material objects. For me, the piece brings to mind the phrase “controlled chaos,” referring to both the meaning behind the piece and to the artist’s use of glass in creation. Glass artists must be quick and precise in dealing with this material that, at 2,000 degrees, has a mind of its own. Controlling that chaotic material to create such intricate pieces as Material Culture is certainly a challenge.
Lipman’s Material Culture will always be one of my favorite pieces at the Museum. Beginning with my initial shock that a piece in our galleries was broken and ending with a better understanding of how glass works and the endless possibilities of what ‘controlled chaos’ can look like, my appreciation for the material has definitely grown since those first few weeks.