This recurring blog series will feature virtual gallery walks with staff members from The Corning Museum of Glass. Everyone at our Museum interacts with the collection in different ways depending on the job they do and the perspective they bring. Hear from fascinating people and learn about their favorite objects as they provide a virtual peek at some of the treasures in our collection—and make plans to come see them in person when we reopen! This next comes from Richard Whiteley, senior program manager at The Studio.
I work at The Studio and our team brings the magic of glass to life by engaging with people through hands-on experiences, like classes and residencies. Within my role as Senior Program Manager, I lead a tour of the Contemporary Art + Design Galleries for students enrolled in winter and summer classes.
As an artist myself, I enjoy the conversations that spark when I take other artists into the Museum’s newest extension to show the many diverse works it holds and engage in conversation around their interpretations. As these tours are not possible right now, I was invited to share an aspect of them for this blog.
The Contemporary Art + Design Galleries are predicated on seeing and understanding glass through a wider contextual lens. Out of the many artworks we have to spotlight, I choose to share two pieces that sit in contrast to each other, but for me, also capture the essence of this magnificent space.
In the expansive and luminous entry hall is where we find these two works, The Portland Panels: Choreographed Geometry, 2007, by the late Klaus Moje, and To Die Upon A Kiss, 2011, by Fred Wilson. These two pieces sit directly opposite each other and yet while each artist appears worlds away from the other, these contrasting works create the perfect place to begin our tour.
The individual histories of these works and the artists who created them are compelling. Both artists come to the material from vastly different starting points and yet both draw on rich traditions and historical precedents of glass. They also invert previous assumptions of the material and redirect conversations towards their own ends.
Moje was one of the early pioneers of the Studio Glass Movement. He was the son of a master glass cutter and trained in his family’s workshop in post-war Germany. Because of his fascination with Egyptian mosaics, Moje began experimenting with kiln forming in the mid-1970s, before there was even a field of practice. His early investigations were slow, and he endured many more failures than successes as he worked to understand glass chemistry and the compatibilities of types of glasses available at the time.
In the summer of 1979, Moje’s fortunes changed after he met the owners of the Bullseye Glass Company while teaching at Pilchuck Glass School. At the time, Bullseye was making glass for the stained-glass industry but excited by Moje’s work, Bullseye spent 18 months researching and developing a range of colored glasses that could work together in the kiln. Moje suddenly had a palette of compatible colors for his work and, in parallel, kiln forming was born as a medium for the contemporary artist, over 3,000 years after it was first developed by Egyptian artisans.
This work, The Portland Panels: Choreographed Geometry, is the largest and most technically challenging work Moje ever made—and I was fortunate to witness this work being made at Bullseye.
In this four-part piece, Moje’s distinctive bold geometry is the result of around 30,000 single pieces of glass that are hand-cut, fused, saw-cut, and refused, often multiple times. His works create an intricate and layered web of form, depth, and color. Many have compared Moje’s works to contemporary genres of painting, perhaps due to the parallel of his use of color and the large flat canvasses.
When I was a student with Klaus, I remember a curator articulating links between his work and abstract expressionism. I can remember Klaus fervently rejecting these references, instead emphasizing the material properties of fused and colored glass. For Moje, the intense power of color ‘in’ glass and the molten edge was like no other material, and this is why he so doggedly pursued developing this medium. He said to me, “I work in glass, not paint.” Moje thought through the material and utilized color like no one I’ve seen, his best works are like standing in front of fireworks going off.
Fred Wilson comes to the medium of glass from a vastly different place. Like many artists represented in the Contemporary Art + Design Galleries, he has no training in glass, nor does he maintain any material affiliation. Wilson’s work tells unseen stories of societal structures of privilege, power, and race, often recontextualizing historical artifacts to create new narratives that give a voice and power to missing black histories. Wilson comes to the material because of the qualities and metaphors the medium can offer.
After having completed his first chandelier for the 2003 Venice Biennale, Wilson returned to the idea in 2011 to produce, To Die Upon A Kiss. The classical 18th-century Venetian glass chandelier is sublime in aesthetic and technical skill, but the story lies within the transition of glass from clear at the top to black at the bottom. In this work, Wilson reflects on the portrayal of black people in Venetian period painting.
I always enjoy discussions that happen beneath this chandelier. Within our studio glass community, considerable attention has been focused on the skills and aesthetics of Venetian glass—but Wilson’s work encourages us to think through our use of the material and see new links to wider areas of visual arts practice and cultural issues. Both Wilson and Moje were drawing on historical precedent, but they were not interested in skills for their own sake. Instead, they developed or gathered access to these skills so they could express their ideas—one from within the glass community and one from outside.
We are so fortunate to have this magnificent collection of diverse works just across the parking lot from The Studio. Taking a tour of our galleries is an inspiring way to expand upon the experiences we can offer fellow artists at The Studio. Sharing the works with our students and discussing the myriad methodologies behind the material is one of the highlights of my job at the Museum. The artist-to-artist conversations that happen in our galleries encourage us all to reflect and think about our own approaches to our work in glass.
Click here to read the previous post in this series by assistant conservator Lianne Uesato.