Glass is back! New Glass: A Worldwide Survey in France

This post comes from Anna Millers, a curatorial intern at The Corning Museum of Glass in the fall of 2018. Anna worked with Susie Silbert, curator of modern and contemporary glass, and Colleen McFarland Rademaker, associate librarian, special collections, on the planning of this year’s two major exhibitions, New Glass Now and Now Glass Now / Context. Anna is now preparing for her curatorial competitive exam in France.

Paris. April 1st, 1982. A new era of French glass art was about to begin. And The Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts), on the north side of the river Seine, is where it all began.

Jack Lang, the French Minister of Culture, took confidentially to the floor of the Museum’s great nave to inaugurate the momentous new exhibition, New Glass. French contemporary glassmakers: art and industry.

The French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang (left), giving the opening speech on April 1st, 1982.
© Courtesy MAD Paris, France. With special acknowledgments to the Glass Department and the Photographic Service.

This show was the Parisian iteration of New Glass: A Worldwide Survey, which had left Corning, New York, and the United States to travel to the United Kingdom, France, and finally Japan. The original display devised by The Corning Museum of Glass in 1979 had only acquired two pieces of French glass, art works by Baccarat and Daum glassworks. However, once in France, the exhibition was further developed to include many of the forefathers of modern French glass, such as René Lalique, Emile Gallé, François Décorchemont, and Maurice Marinot – industrial glass manufacturers and contemporary glassmakers working in France.

Exhibition view of the contemporary French artists section at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
© Courtesy MAD Paris, France. With special acknowledgments to the Glass Department and the Photographic Service.

A native of the city of Nancy, itself renowned for its glassworks, Lang recognized the industrial and artistic opportunity New Glass offered at a moment when several French manufacturers – such as the “Compagnie Française du Cristal” and Daum glassworks – were encountering financial difficulties. In this context, the exhibition imagined a new path for glass in France. Showcasing past French achievement, New Glass also displayed the recent advances other countries had made with the material and therefore suggested new industrial opportunities that France might adopt.

New Glass was not only the first exhibition dedicated to studio glass to open in a national museum but was also the first glass show to take place in the Museum of Decorative Arts since the “César/Cristal/Daum” show in 1969. Moving the medium into the public eye, New Glass displayed art glass emerging from 27 other countries, such as the United States of America, Japan, and Czechoslovakia, and introduced new aesthetic possibilities.

The two façades of New Glass – industrial and artistic – provided Lang the ideal platform from which to issue a call to arms for French glass. During his opening speech, he announced 15 resolutions for the revival of artistic glass in France, in which art would come to the aid of industry. Three main spheres of action were proposed: artistic training, national support for artists, and the public and scholarly promotion of glass art.

Cover of the exhibition catalog “30 vases pour le CIRVA” [30 vases for the CIRVA], edited in 1989.

From the various efforts to encourage new training programs, the CIRVA (International Center for Research in Glass and the Plastic Arts) was established, a research and creation studio devoted to enabling contemporary artists, designers, and architects to introduce glass and their artistic process. To stimulate artistic creation, the government provided funds to acquire works by contemporary glass artists.

A special commission was also organized in the Museum of Decorative of Arts to select the first works of French contemporary glass that would be purchased by the FNAC (National Contemporary Art Collection). Among them were remarkable pieces by Isabelle and Claude Monod, Etienne Leperlier, and Yan Zoritchak.


Finally, to facilitate the wider appreciation and study of glass, a new glass center was founded within the Museum of Decorative Arts. Entrusted to Yvonne Brunhammer, then curator at the Museum, and Jean-Luc Olivié, her assistant and future curator of the glass department, the new institution was conceived both as a museum department and a research center inspired by different institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and naturally, The Corning Museum of Glass where Mr. Olivié visited for a few weeks as an observer.

These initiatives are only a selection from among the 15 resolutions Lang introduced, which also included allocating an additional budget for stained-glass creation and restoration, and promoting the use of glass in architectural projects. His agenda fundamentally changed the face of glass in France and established some of the most precious French institutions devoted to contemporary glass still operating today.

Projecting the flourishing of a new era of glass in France, and in some part, ushering it into being, Jack Lang proudly announced, “Glass is back!”

To learn more about New Glass: A Worldwide Survey, visit The Rakow Research Library where New Glass Now / Context remains on view until January 5, 2020.

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