Sunday, January 04, 2009

Museum of Glass

Bryn and I went to the Museum of Glass in Tacoma last week. I'd gotten free passes for volunteering this fall at Pilchuck Glass School's annual auction and figured I should go and check out the museum now that I actually knew a little something about art glass. We had a fun time, although not because we were particularly wowed by the museum. From what (little) I had heard about it, I was expecting to be wowed. Instead I was underwhelmed, and it was equal parts the art I saw and the museum itself.

Of the exhibits on view my favorite was the one featuring work by Dante Marioni. His pieces are so precise in their craftsmanship that one can't help but be taken in by them. I especially liked his cases of goblets that invoked collectorly feelings and the large patterned acorns. Also on display was Contrasts: A Glass Primer which had some really cool pieces. Too bad it featured cheesy words stenciled on most of the display cases that labeled objects with words like "translucent" or "vessel."

A collection of opaque white glass objects by Daniel Clayman was starkly contemporary. The better ones reminded me a little of Richard Serra's work, although smaller in scale and in a much more fragile media. The weaker ones just seemed like the results of a foundation design course--really cool and interesting, but not pushing the envelope. Of course there was a Chihuly piece on display for a limited time, The Laguna Murano Chandelier. It is a beautiful piece of work; but, like most of his work, there doesn't seem to be much of a deeper meaning.

I was glad I had free passes. The ten dollar admission seems kind of steep for the smallness of the museum. My limited experience with glass at Pilchuck this summer left me with the impression that making objects in glass can be very seductive. Unfortunately, viewing glass objects doesn't always elicit the same type of emotion. And don't get me started on the "Chihuly Bridge of Glass" that connects the waterfront with the rest of downtown Tacoma. *shudder*

To be honest, I was more impressed by what we saw in the Traver Gallery located next to the museum. They had a selection of Chihuly objects that were all hideous in varying degrees, a room of Preston Singletary's work--that I loved, and most of the largest display area was taken up with work by Catherine Grisez that was fascinating. Her works combined glass, metal, and gemstones in intriguing ways to achieve a complexity that was lacking from most of the glass objects we'd seen that day.

I guess I left with the feeling that there are a lot of skilled people working in glass. But in many cases, without a deep level of thoughtfulness and strong concepts to ground the work, there isn't really much there besides pretty things to look at. Chihuly helped bring a lot of attention to glass art in general, and in the Pacific Northwest in particular. That this museum celebrates that growth is great. Where the opportunity lies is in being more critical and serious about the field. I'd say the curators could really do a lot more work to help people understand why the objects being shown are museum-quality. I wasn't always convinced.

No comments: