Glass Center's 10th anniversary show smashing
'Field Peas' by Linda Ethier.
'Lowercase Perseverance' by Jason Chakravarty.
'Searching for the Golden Mean' by Ron Desmett.
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At first Heather McElwee hoped to hear from at least 100 of the 360 artists she'd invited to exhibit during the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Glass Center. When that was surpassed, she thought, delightedly, "maybe we'll get to 150."
Then, as submissions continued to arrive, she began to worry whether the gallery could accommodate them all. It's not a bad problem to have.
All turned out well and the 220 artists exhibiting in the glowing "10 x 10 x 10" reflect not only the glass center's history but also the state of the contemporary art glass movement.
The artist range is democratic, a mix of emerging and well-established. Included are seminal studio glass artists Henry Halem, showing an abstract, kiln-formed composition "Convergence," and Dale Chihuly, who submitted a two-part blown "Blue Sky Basket Set." Artists represented are from across the U.S. and Australia, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Mexico.
The range of expression is vast, from precise to casual, from beauty for beauty's sake to social statement, from reflections of the functional roots of the medium to sculpture. The glass is blown, cast, flame-worked, painted, stitched, cold-worked, photo engraved. Rarely, it's absent.
Little is predictable. Glass "Gummy Bears," anyone? They're made of cast lead crystal by Pat Bako. A "Glass Ear Collection" by Daviea Davis, reminiscent of a gathering of found beach glass, is displayed in a wooden box. Saxophonist Rex Trimm's "Vetrophone," a 22-inch-tall flame-worked instrument, may only be experienced by proxy via MP3 player, but it's still amazing. Several short clips made during various audio experiments with the Vetrophone resonate with its sort of bassoon, sort of bull elephant seal sound (ask staff to turn on the MP3 if it doesn't respond).
Ms. McElwee, who is glass center acting executive director, said when staff was planning the 10th anniversary year they asked what kind of exhibition would best celebrate what the glass center has achieved over the past decade. One idea was to show work by everyone who had taught, lectured, demonstrated and/or exhibited since it opened.
When they realized that would comprise 360 individuals, "we began to play with the idea of 10. What if we put a size requirement on the works -- no larger than 10 inches by 10 inches by 10 inches?" she said.
They also decided upon a salon-type show, inspired by the 2003 "Panoptican" at Carnegie Museum of Art, which featured a stacked hang of artworks.
"The idea is when you walk into the gallery, you have this feeling of being overwhelmed with what the glass center has achieved through the years."
Ms. McElwee credits the response as "a real testament to how important the glass center is to these artists," particularly the many young artists who have taught or shown there.
"Some of the new young artists the glass center took a chance on are now doing the most exciting work in the field today. The Japanese artists we showed in 2007 are a good example of that. Six or seven of them sent work from Japan for this exhibition. They told us that it was an honor to be in the 'Allure' show and of course want to participate [in this show]."
Since these are contemporary artists, a few of the works don't even include the medium, such as Jane Haskell's "Green Globe 2," a luminous digital print with a fire of its own.
And since these are artists, there are some rule-breakers.
Davide Salvadore's "CoCoe" is 12 inches high, for example. "But when an Italian master breaks the rules you don't turn him down."
Some of the works are stellar, some are experimental, and others are derivative of celebrity artists such as Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. Together, though, the effect is exhilarating.
The majority of works were created within the past year, many for the exhibition, and most are for sale. Prices range from $4 to $15,000. The baroque hang worked even with a record 500-person opening night crowd. Some works sold; none was broken.
The $4 work, "Some Assembly Required," comprises glass casts of the parts in a Starfix German Messerschmitt model kit. The price of the artwork was what artist Travis Rohrbaugh paid for the kit at a Goodwill store. (It's among about a dozen works that have sold to date.)
The highest price is for a polished glass sphere within which floats a glass bouquet visited by glass insects, "Honeybees With Mountain Laurel Bouquet Orb." Internationally acclaimed studio artist Paul Stankard took into account the state flower when creating the uber-realistic, 360-degree arrangement that perches on a Plexiglas collar.
It took the whole glass center staff to pull off the "most ambitious show we've ever attempted," Ms. McElwee said. "The techs built 175 new pedestals just for this show. Everybody pitched in and helped to unpack and install the work. It was a team effort."
The glass center will throw a birthday celebration dubbed "Hot and Sticky," on July 23, with New York artist collective Burnt Asphalt Family prepping hors d'oeuvres in the furnace and creating edible sculpture (tickets available on the website). The Sept. 23 benefit gala, with auction, will close out the organization's first decade.
As the glass center looks toward the resumption of merger talks with Pittsburgh Center for the Arts/Pittsburgh Filmmakers this summer, the organization is in good shape.
"It's had its growing pains over the last 10 years like any young person or young arts organization, but we're in a stable place right now," Ms. McElwee said.
Look for free admission and other deals at local museums that are participating in the Association of Art Museum Directors' Art Museum Day today. The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, for example, has free admission, a noon talk by former steelworker Bob Kendra and shop discounts.
"PAN: Fin de Siecle Prints: Art Nouveau on Paper," from the Berlin-based periodical PAN, opens from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at The Frick Art Museum, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze ($12, members $10; 412-371-0600).
Alisha Wormsley will give a free artist talk at 7 p.m. Monday in conjunction with her exhibition "The Transformation of Oshie" at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Through an Afro-Cuban religious narrative, the multimedia installation explores issues such as identity, social justice and duality.
Ms. Wormsley, who divides her time between Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, held a three-year residency at Project Row House, Houston, and has been commissioned to develop curriculum for the Faith Ringgold School in Harlem. The talk is part of the third annual "First Voice: A Pittsburgh International Black Arts Festival," May 20-28. Information: 412-258-2700 or www.AugustWilsonCenter.org.
"Keystone.1/Pennsylvania's Photography Biennial" opens Tuesday, with a reception to follow on June 3, at Silver Eye Center for Photography, 1015 E. Carson St., South Side (412-431-1810).
The 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial website is up, www.pittsburghbiennial.org. The five-venue exhibition launches June 10 at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts/Pittsburgh Filmmakers.
First Published May 18, 2011 12:00 am