Once again, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has curated a large thematic exhibition for ArtPrize. “Shattered: Contemporary Sculpture in Glass” is a bold endeavor that features 25 artists from across the country and around the world. Although the organization enjoyed much success in recent years with exhibitions by celebrated glass master Dale Chihuly, the present exhibition takes the viewer beyond for a broad look at the use of glass in contemporary art today. Although there is not a vessel to be found, the diversity of objects and installations offers something for everyone.
The exhibition opens with a life-size figurative piece by Daniel Arsham of Brooklyn, New York. "Watching" is a haunting but dazzling work composed of recycled glass and resin, and based on a life cast of a figure. Made in response to being trapped in a hurricane and surrounded by mounds of broken glass, the artist took the elements of tragedy as a point of recycling in order to create something new. As a result, an idea and form was made whole. Not far away is the only other truly figurative work in the exhibition, an extraordinary pair of portrait busts by Dean Allison from Penland, North Carolina. "Backbone" are also cast from life, but the result in terms of surface, color and form is startlingly different than with Arsham.
One of several large-scale installations opens the main gallery. "Polifemo," by Giuliano Giuman of Perugia, Italy is perhaps the most complex, yet poetic among them. Although abstract, the work describes the legend of the ancient Cyclops who was blinded by the Greek hero Odysseus. The metal framework represents a cave, but also serves as the structure supporting an enormous sheet of brilliantly shattered glass. A sharpened rod of prismatic color lurches toward this sheet and points directly to the epicenter of the break. Ideas about vision and sight abound in lyrical terms most would never associate with glass, but the artist’s technical abilities to manipulate materials to this degree are equally impressive.
Also from Italy is the sculptor Simone Crestani. Trained in the traditional techniques of blown and hot glass historically associated with Venice and Murano, he has become highly experimental in recent years working with irregular-shaped forms and painstakingly realized details. "Bonsai Group" is a pair of the delicate and diminutive trees emulating in glass the ancient tradition of Japanese bonsai. While the trunk and branches sway with grace, it is the absence of leafy flourishes that enchants. The scale, wonder and fragility of the works are greatly increased because Crestani has chosen to work in a thin-clear glass.
Also destined to delight is a massive floor installation by the American artist Beverly Fishman. The only Michigan artist in this year’s ArtPrize exhibition at Meijer Gardens, Fishman is a much celebrated faculty member at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, where she teaches painting. "Artificial Paradise" is composed of legions of brilliant colored and meticulously designed pills strewn with careful abandon across an expansive white plinth. Although a definite visual essay on color and glass, one cannot help but think of variations of social commentary about the role of pharmaceuticals in contemporary society. Fishman refers to this work as one of her “pill spills” and sees the aforementioned plinth and even the gallery itself as a metaphor for the body.
On a much more intimate scale are a series of careful crafted snow globes by the husband and wife team of Walter Martin, an American, and Paloma Muñoz, of Spain. "Travelers" refers to a series of glass and mixed media works the pair began to construct after moving from New York City to rural Pennsylvania. Although seemingly charming and decorative from a distance, the surrealistic magic of each work comes into view upon closer inspection. Each snow globe contains a highly provocative scene with a narrative or story that is offered the viewer but which requires their own imagination and creativity to complete. Elements of stories and fables are present, but in situations and with characters that are rewardingly unique.
Beyond objects and installations, there are also two video projects included in the exhibition of greatly differing scale and messaging. The first is a large installation by the California-based artist Mary B. White titled "Sacred Pollination." A fascinating video regarding bees and pollination is projected downward from on high to a glass platform resembling a broad, but abstracted floral form on the floor. Calling attention and concern to the environmental cause of bees and pollination is at heart here. While Tim Tate of Maryland has created a modern day reliquary in "She was often Gripped with the Desire to be Elsewhere." A pedestal scale work to be inspected from all sides, Tate as created a jewel like treasury of images and information.
“Shattered: Contemporary Sculpture in Glass” offers a sampling of the depth and breadth of artists working in glass today. It could be argued that this is a sculpture exhibition or a glass exhibition, but, in truth, such boundaries are really irrelevant across the polyphony of Contemporary art at present. Although not a vase to be found, there are numerous rewarding visual and creative experiences available for audiences of every age and experience.
Joseph Becherer is Chief Curator and Vice President for Collections and Exhibitions at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture and the Lena Meijer Professor in the History of Art at Aquinas College.