The Allure of Colorless Glass Explored in New Exhibition
NORFOLK, Va. (Nov. 9, 2020) – The Chrysler Museum of Art will showcase approximately 50 objects from its extensive collection of glass in the upcoming exhibition Clear As Crystal: Colorless Glass from the Chrysler Museum, on view Dec. 26, 2020–July 3, 2021. All of the artworks in the show are made exclusively with colorless glass, and historical objects will be displayed alongside contemporary artworks. The exhibition reveals the array of techniques that artists and designers have used to capitalize on the aesthetic and intellectual opportunities offered by clear, colorless glass.
The selected artworks demonstrate how artisans and artists across time and around the world have adapted or manipulated colorless glass. Visitors can see the impressive range of forming and decorating techniques that have been used to achieve a desired effect, such as blowing, molding, casting, pressing, cutting, carving, laminating, engraving, etching and polishing. The works selected from the Chrysler’s collection include artworks by modern designers and contemporary artists like Edvard Hald, Simon Gate, Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, Karen LaMonte, Luke Jerram, Steven Weinberg, and Christopher Ries. The exhibition also showcases objects made by significant historical American and European glass manufacturers, including Boston & Sandwich, New England, T.G. Hawkes, Libbey, Steuben, Tiffany, Lalique, Gallé, Baccarat, Stevens & Williams, Orrefors, and Barovier & Toso.
“The Chrysler has an exceptional collection of glass, with objects spanning 3,000 years of history and demonstrating the many exciting possibilities of this artistic medium. Only about 1,600 of over 10,000 glass objects in our collection can be displayed in the galleries at any one time,” notes Carolyn Swan Needell, Ph.D., the Chrysler Museum’s Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass. “We have so many wonderful objects, and this has been a fantastic opportunity to delve deep into our holdings and make new connections.”
The sheer volume of colorless glass within the Chrysler’s collection sparked the idea to create an exhibition focusing exclusively on why colorless glass has been desirable for so much of glassmaking history. An artificial material that is naturally bluish-green in hue, glass can be made nearly any color imaginable by adding specific ingredients and by controlling the furnace atmosphere. Despite the nearly infinite possibilities, however, people have long been captivated by colorless transparent glass. “At almost every significant moment in glassmaking history, people took great care to make colorless glass, and this was more highly valued than the other types of glass being made,” Needell says.
From Antiquity to the Renaissance, glassmakers in Europe and the Middle East sought to produce glass as clear and colorless as the pure quartz mineral called rock crystal. Rock crystal was a precious commodity traded widely across vast distances. For the Persians and Romans, rock crystal ranked with gold and silver in its value, and the rarity of the mineral made it fitting for prestigious objects in the courts of Islamic caliphs and church treasuries of Medieval Europe. “It is not surprising that glassmakers would want to create clear, colorless glass,” Needell explains. “Whether natural or manmade, a solid material that is also crystal-clear is a miraculous and utterly beautiful thing.”
The quest for perfectly colorless glass is age-old. Venetian glassmakers kept secret recipes for their colorless cristallo glass, renowned for its clarity and strength. English chemists of the 17th century sought to make their own perfectly colorless glass, which led to the production and popularity of “lead crystal.” Bohemian artisans in Central Europe were famous for their elaborately cut and engraved colorless glasses during the 18th and 19th centuries. American glass factories later produced cut and pressed glassware that would reflect and refract light, and the popular term “crystal” came to be synonymous with the highest-quality glass in production.
Contemporary artists have continued to harness the power and properties of colorless glass, in some cases as a means to “sculpt” with light and form. This is evident in the work of the famous Czech husband-wife team Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtová and the American sculptor Christopher Ries.
Early in his career, Ries set out to find “the ultimate glass sculpting material,” seeking a colorless glass that was completely free from impurities. He discovered the clear optic crystal produced by Schott North America of Duryea, Pa. Ries uses Schott’s “LF5,” a glass so refined and homogenized that as light travels through it, only 0.2 to 0.4% of photons are absorbed (compared to the 30% absorbed by regular window glass). In 2019, the Chrysler Museum of Art received the gift of a sculpture created by Christopher Ries. “The receipt of this gift helped to turn what was the spark of an idea for a colorless glass exhibition into the opportunity for us to tell a compelling story,” says Needell. “Ries’ work feels akin to a culmination because of the near-perfect transparency, translucency and reflectivity of the glass he uses.”
The glass artworks on view in the exhibition are all drawn directly from the Chrysler Museum of Art’s own holdings. Several examples of quartz rock crystal have been generously loaned by Hardy’s The Art of Jewelry in Virginia Beach. These include objects in their natural crystal form as well as carved tableware and sculpture by the renowned German gem-cutter Tom Munsteiner. “The display of rock crystal alongside the Chrysler Museum’s colorless glass artworks will help to emphasize and make apparent the conceptual link between the natural mineral and the artificial material,” says Needell. “It’s a beautiful way to share with our audience the similarities and differences between materials and techniques, as well as universal human concepts of beauty and value.”
Elizabeth Hardy of Hardy’s The Art of Jewelry notes, “The similarities and differences between the natural and the manmade materials are readily apparent. This exhibition also offers a special opportunity, outside of the gem hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, for people to see mineral sculptures up close.”
An accompanying exhibition brochure will further contextualize the materiality of colorless glass by exploring some of the chemical properties and physical behaviors of colorless glass. The brochure will also highlight several outstanding examples of the Chrysler’s colorless glass on view in other galleries throughout the Museum. “It will be like a treasure hunt through the Museum, which is rather fitting for this alluring material,” remarks Needell.
Perry Glass Studio Demonstrations
First Sundays, Jan. 3–June 6, 2021
Noon │ Free
Visit the Perry Glass Studio or tune into the Glass Studio’s Facebook page for Clear as Crystal-themed demonstrations. On the first Sunday of the month beginning in January, studio demonstrations will focus on objects featured in the exhibition. Seating is limited to ensure proper social distancing. Please reserve a free ticket at chrysler.org to guarantee your seat.
Curator Virtual Tour
Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021
7 p.m. │ Free, registration required
Explore the artworks on view in Clear as Crystal: Colorless Glass from the Chrysler Museum with Carolyn Swan Needell, Ph.D., the Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass. See the diversity of techniques and aesthetic effects achieved by artists working with colorless glass and learn more about the allure of this captivating material. The Zoom link will be sent with the confirmation email. Register at chrysler.org.
ABOUT THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM OF ART
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.
The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers the Moses Myers House, an historic house in downtown Norfolk, and the Jean Outland Chrysler Library. General admission is free at all venues. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.
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