I began my day at SOFA CHICAGO with a lecture titled: Wunderkammer: Object | Idea | Act, a spirited conversation between Doug Heller, Director and Founder of Heller Gallery, Artist Laura Kramer, Dr. Jutta-Annette Page, Curator of Glass & Decorative Arts at the Toledo Museum of Art, Artist Andy Paiko, and moderated by independent curator and historian Susie Silbert. The panel was discussing the the history, purpose, and power of cabinets of curiosity, and how they can serve as guiding examples for collecting today. It was interesting dialogue of how the notion of collecting ebbs and flows between artist, gallerist, and curator and how each define their own cathedral of objects. One of my favorite quotes of the weekend came from Doug Heller offered a sort of reaffirmation, he said: “…the extraordinary can be found in the ordinary if we are willing to live in wonder.” Simple and sincere, it precisely reflects the visceral qualities I find to be possible in art. And more importantly, were found in the following examples of contemporary works in glass on view at the fair.
It seems appropriate then, to begin with Curiousity Box, an intriguing collection of glass and mixed media by Laura Kramer (presented by Heller Gallery). Manifesting from a background in anthropology and archaeology, Kramer methodically explores the notions of art, artifact, and nature. Here she presents an array of unusual hybrids: golden honeycombs with exploding shards of glass and minty-green barnacles being overcome by gunmetal tumors are carefully placed next to wispy twigs and feathers, white glass bones, and drusy specimens. Other objects, less identifiable, perpetuate the questions surrounding our (societal) relationship with nature, accepted systems of classification, and the liminal. Kramer’s eclectic obsessions bloom into gorgeous mythologies; whether they are real or imaginary is the threshold she beautifully dares me to cross.
River Green & Mint Chip (detail shown here), by Amber Cowan (also presented by Heller Gallery) is a significant work that is literally bursting with protruding pieces of re-worked, vintage pressed glassware produced by some of the best known, but now-defunct, American glass factories. Celebratory in its sheer density, Cowan overwhelms the eye by filling every space and even the in-between with unabashedly opulent flowers, stems, birds, and other assorted baubles in shades of mint green. It is as though she has laid out her best china, every last piece of it, into one massive, marvelous display. I am impressed as I struggle to take it all in. As I do so, as I pace back and forth; however, the individual pieces begin to blend into one another (I now understand the reason for the subtle shifts in color). As I step back, and each petal melts into the next, I am finally able to pause and am overtaken by a wave of nostalgia. It suddenly feels bittersweet, as if the answers to the questions are already decided and here I am at the end which may in fact just be the beginning. There is history here, and loss, and rebirth – all worthy of further contemplation. So, I return for a third look and begin again.
Joanna Manousis captures and reflects the in-between moments, the special and fleeting ones that offer the most profound clarity. The ones I often miss in as I am off seeking something far less precious. Indra’s Web (presented by Wexler Gallery) is a glittering collection of cast crystal and mirrored gems placed in a precise pattern that confidently extends in all directions. Referencing the God Indra and her extravagantly jeweled net, Manousis bares the glittering gems that are to be found at the intersecting nodes of her web. The beauty, both physical and metaphorical, is found in their polished surfaces – each reflecting the surrounding jewels, infinite in number, just as they are reflecting the same jewel back upon itself. This is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image (forgive the simple interpretation). Regardless if you are aware of the lore of Indra, Manousis successfully reveals the question of interconnectivity between beings, objects, and places in her deftly orchestrated glass jewels. If I am willing to truly look, I find myself (as well as infinite reflections of myself in infinite directions). But, I also find the reflections of others, a slight but important deviation from the story. To sincerely consider the notions of interconnectedness of the universe and the unending boundaries of the infinite (significant questions given the current technologically obsessed state of our society); I must be willing to look beyond myself. I am the jewel that reflects, but I also have to be the jewel worthy of being reflected – a demanding but rewarding role I have no choice but to play if I want to get to the ever important in-between.
Also drawing on the spaces between, Reflection Series by Min Jeong Song (presented by KCDF) harnesses the materiality of glass to create dense, glossy panels of kiln-formed glass that operate as purely ambiguous objects. Without convention, culture, or character, molten glass morphs into abstracted patterns, releasing itself from its history and identity. With each sunken divot and raised dimple, Song blurs the boundaries of the material into something unrecognizable yet hauntingly familiar.
Substantial and imposing, a new series of works by Sabrina Knowles and Jenny Pohlman (presented by Duane Reed Gallery) features striking portraits of Himba women coupled with oversized ornaments reminiscent of Victorian brooches. My favorite of the three, Untitled Himba Totem, honors the majesty and perseverance of this ancient indigenous tribe with its bold, simple design and fluid, feminine, glass forms. Self-proclaimed seekers, Pohlman / Knowles invest as much of themselves in finding the common threads of humanity as they do in translating their epic experiences into sculptures that not only celebrate their journeys but enlighten others about worlds untraveled. Less referential or iconic than some of their previous work, I find this series more successful in acting as interpreter rather than surrogate. In the blending of photographs of women with ancient lineage softly etched onto modern materials and combined with chic embellishments, Pohlman / Knowles are able to create an entirely new vocabulary. And in the process, channel everything they are chasing and wish to convey: compassion, strength, power, and grace.
Also confronting ideas on a global scale is the work of Norwood Viviano (presented by Heller Gallery). Building on his investigations into the concept of the map as “knowledge space:” a tool implemented by entities of influence and with agendas, and the relationship between industry and population change, Viviano’s revealing installation, Global Cities, illustrates the population change of seven cities (Paris, France; Lagos, Nigeria; Tokyo, Japan; Lima, Peru; New York City, USA; Chicago, USA; and Shenzen, China) from date of birth to the current state across a timeline dotted with various cultural, social, and economic factors that have shaped the history and life of these urban centers. Each city is represented by a suspended cobalt blue or plum top, its pendulum extending downwards (in some cases dramatically), to document its age and its disc ballooning horizontally to represent its population growth. Each city also has a vinyl shadows, further echoing Viviano’s interesting object choice: the top is a toy that fights its own balance, hastily and perpetually spinning until it isn’t and abruptly topples over. To elicit even further dialogue regarding instability, Viviano elects to make each city’s marker from glass: a fragile material loaded with history and connotation. Though fairly neutral, the works serve as both a record and a warning; and I accept Viviano’s gentle nudge to consider the balance of all things as a means of progress.
One last selection of note is Arabesque by Lynne Chinn, presented by SAMA (Society of American Mosaic Artists) as part of their special exhibit: Shattering Expectations: The Art of Mosaics in the 21st Century. Crafted from smalti, 24k green-gold smalti, marble, porcelain, vitreous glass, and seashells, it was a surprising and intriguing work I had not expected to find. The substantial but billowy form falls and rises, collapsing both into and away from itself – flawlessly stacked in a monochromatic white color scheme of carefully placed tesserae (individual tiles) and with exceptional andamento. My favorite element is the electric lime green interior that peeks between folds and layers and whispers over the edges of the form’s rigid peaks, luring me to come closer and stand in its wonder. Chinn’s mastery of this ancient art form is anchored in its traditions; but it is, in every other way, decidedly modern.
For more information about these artists and galleries, visit: www.sofaexpo.com And be sure to make plans to attend next year’s fair: November 3 – 6, 2016
Images (from top to bottom): Joanna Manousis, Indra’s Web (detail), 2015, cast crystal, mirror, stainless steel, 60 x 7 x 60 inches, presented by Wexler Gallery; Laura Kramer, Curiousity Box, 2015, glass / mixed media, 8 x 34.25 x 17.5 inches, presented by Heller Gallery; Amber Cowan, River Green & Mint Chip (detail), 2015, flameworked and hot-sculpted American pressed glass, 17 x 52 x 8 inches, presented by Heller Gallery; Joanna Manousis, Indra’s Web, 2015, Cast crystal, mirror, stainless steel, 60 x 7 x 60 inches, presented by Wexler Gallery; Min Jeong Song, Reflection Series, kiln-formed glass, relief printing on paper, presented by KCDF; Pohlman / Knowles, Untitled Himba Totem, 2015, blown glass with original photo, mirrored steel, beads and wire, 39 x 13.25 x 4.5 inches, presented by Duane Reed Gallery; Norwood Viviano, Global Cities, 2015, blown glass and vinyl cut drawings, dimensions variable, presented by Heller Gallery; Lynne Chinn, Arabesque, 2012, smalti, 24k green-gold smalti, marble, porcelain, vitreous glass, seashells, presented by SAMA (Society of American Mosaic Artists)