It is very exciting to open COLD+HOT 2009, a comprehensive sculpture exhibition celebrating the use of glass as a fine art medium. In San Francisco, there is a particular excitement about opening an exhibition where the focus is glass. The San Francisco Bay Area is the birthplace of the West Coast glass movement, and home to many fine artists who work almost exclusively with glass as their medium of expression (as one artist emphasized in his statement, to say they are ‘glass artists’ is as much a misnomer as saying Leonardo da Vinci was a draftsman because he knew how to draw, or that Michelangelo was a mere marble artist, and Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel were bronze artists just because they might, arguably, be known only for their sculpture). Prior to San Francisco’s M.H. de Young Museum opening of its Saxe Collection, the idea of glass as a sculptural medium wasn’t seriously entertained. In fact, many contemporary art critics and collectors continue to relegate the use of glass exclusively as a craft medium today. And so, the dialogue of glass as a fine art medium continues, with growing awareness that it is a fickle and demanding tool, evolving as a lyrical and sophisticated medium of artistic expression.

The inner circle of glass collectors is a small and surprisingly organized cognoscenti who followed the studio glass movement from the early1960s through its vision of contemporary art today. In the United States, they study the work of artists such as Marvin Lipofsky, Harvey Littleton, William Morris, Lino Tagliapietra, Mary White, and who hasn’t heard of Dale Chihuly? The inner circle includes curator Tina Oldnow, critics James Yood and (the late) Dan Klein, gallerists William Traver and Douglas Heller (and their eponymous galleries), as well as San Francisco’s own collectors and philanthropists, Dorothy and Gordon Saxe.

The focus of COLD+HOT 2009 is the material, glass. It is about glass as a medium of artistic expression, as sculpture. Most of the artists presented possess enviable academic credentials (BFA or MFA) with emphasis in glass, painting or sculpture. They studied form, light and space, and are masters of their medium whether it is blown, cast, engraved or laminated. Some of the artists focus on the form captured by the exterior planes of their sculpture, or the optics created by sculpting the exterior as well as uses of material to develop their artistic vision. Some of the artists are ‘outsider’ artists, who mastered their craft indirectly while working with the medium, and developed conceptual ideas iterated via glass. And, to mix it up, yes, we included two painters, who have no material relationship to the medium of glass. All the artists in this exhibition are fine artists.

Peter Bremers sailed away to the Antarctic a few years ago. His series, “Icebergs and Paraphernalia” is in direct relationship to the landscape and light he studied during his adventure. Eric Franklin’s anatomical forms don’t leave much to the imagination – here is a pair of hands, this is a rib cage, and these are a pair of feet. Skeletal, formed with borosilicate glass (commonly known as Pyrex), his combined use of lamp worked glass with neon and krypton gases is electrifying. Grant Garmezy grew up on a farm in Tennessee, and his childhood memories of long lost animal life continue to be a source for his award-winning sculpture. Phillip Hua’s expressive series “De/Construction” studies his recent experience in Beijing as light was obscured by atmospheric industrial waste. Michelle Knox continues to build her year of awards and scholarship with “Chorten Stones,” an imposing abstracted temple of blown glass and oil painted forms. Weston Lambert sculpts the interior of his works, laminates them, and sculpts the exterior in his preservation of fleeting memories. Susan Longini addresses the fragility of the passage of time; Greg Nangle celebrates the perfection of the imperfect; Nancy Otto shows us that some things, such as desire, can be larger than life; Lorraine Peltz addresses the feminine ideal and identity; Stig Persson studies the tension of interior and exterior spatial relationships, along with Chantal Royant; while Thomas Scoon turns to companionship and community with juxtapositions of glass and stone. Carmen Spera, deliberately shuns the title of ‘glass artist’ yet puns the term and material with laminated weaponry that lampoons the ongoing parallel fascinations of high fashion with violence. Jennifer Umphress celebrates the use of borosilicate glass with an ongoing dialogue of the natural world; Kristiina Uslar contrasts the extreme delicacy of pâte-de-verre with her sculptures of industrial shapes; and Sasha Zhitneva employs light to emphasize the painted forms of her kiln worked glass planes.

COLD+HOT 2009 celebrates the work of these artists with their presentations of cold worked (carved, engraved, polished) glass and hot worked (blown, cast, kiln fired) glass and painting (acrylic, mixed media, and oil). The premised material for this exhibition is glass presented within three basic ranges: borosilicate (the most heat resistant), soda glass (the most common), and lead glass (also known as crystal). The artworks employ all the classic and formal methods knows to sculpture, such as carving and lost wax casting, and in some cases, develop new methods to feature the lyrical and poetic qualities of light captured by glass. Many of the artists in COLD+HOT 2009 are prestigious academics and graduates, elite within their respective programs, some are gifted with continuous awards recognizing their work, while others enjoy the prestige of commissions at venues like the Waldorf Astoria and abroad. They are all, without question, fine artists with relevant ideas in step with today’s dialogue and social commentary, whose practice is presented with mastery and well-developed skill, and whose work is not only engaging, but beautiful and visually pleasurable.