Dialogue

Review: Playing with Fire at the Oakland Museum

Glass is so gloriously seductive that it’s easy to relegate it to the status of mere “crafts” medium—as ceramics and photography once were. In 1962, the Toledo Museum of Art hosted workshops by glassmaker Harvey Littleton and scientist Dominick Labino; their innovations in low-heat glass and portable kilns (respectively) made glass studio-friendly. Playing with Fire: Artists of the California Studio Glass Movement at the Oakland Museum of California is one of 120 shows assembled by the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass to celebrate the medium’s golden anniversary; it includes works by Marvin Lipofsky and Robert Fritz, who established glass programs in the Bay Area; their students—Richard Marquis, Jay Musler, and Mary White; and art glass’s third generation, which, notes Julie Muñiz, Associate Curator of Design and Decorative Arts, adds contemporary conceptualism to the abstraction or semi-abstraction favored by the post-craft pioneers.

The medium’s versatility comes across vividly in the show’s twenty-works. Lipofsky’s organic deconstructions of the vessel form (Zweisel Series, Summer Sun, and California Loop) prove that nature and culture commingled nicely long before the supposed competition became an academic buzzword. Fritz’s Vessel and Vase and John Lewis’s Copper Patina Bench are, similarly, cultural works that retain traditional functions. Glass artists explore art-for-art’s-sake expression (Latchezar Boyadjiev, Jaime Guerrero, Danny Perkins, Randy Strong); poetic metaphor (Mark Abildgaard, Kathleen Elliot, Bella Feldman, Taliaferro Jones, Michelle Knox, Susan Longini, William Morris, Jay Musler, Richard Marquis, Therman Statom, Cassandra Straubing, Pamina Traylor, Mary White); and political critique (Clifford Rainey’s Erechtheum, a faux-museological installation featuring Coke bottles instead of Greek maidens; and Oben Abright’s Projections in Tun Yee, the glass portrait bust of a Burmese soldier, flickering with video images of political repression).

Playing with Fire: Artists of the California Glass Movement runs through March 24; Oakland Museum of California at 1000 Oak Street, Oakland, CA; (510) 318-8400; museumca.org. --DeWitt Cheng in East Bay Monthly.

Repost with permission from DeWitt Cheng