Best And Brightest

It's Not Too Late To Check Out The Finest In Glass Art.
By Margaret Regan  

THE GLASS ART Society conference is over, the international exhibition is packed up and many of the smaller galleries around town have reverted to their usual media.

Yet the commotion has not died down entirely. Last week, the Tucson Museum of Art and Etherton Gallery still teemed with visitors whose numbers were well above the usual, even though they're no longer up to the throngs of 2,000 Terry Etherton says paraded through his gallery the week of the conference in mid-April. And it's Tucson's good fortune that these two venues are keeping their shows up another month: The glass art they're displaying is probably the best and the brightest of all that passed through town recently.

All by themselves, in fact, these two shows offer a quick course in contemporary glass directions, an instructive look at the aesthetic divide between the classic glass masters steeped in exquisite tradition and the quirky, irreverent glass innovators who look on glass as just one of many art materials available for their media mixes. ¡Cálido! Contemporary Warm Glass, the domain of the young innovators, fills almost the whole of the TMA and it's a wonderful show, one of the best the museum has put together in some time. It's an entrancing, bracing, wholly pleasurable look at some 70 specimens of glass art in every possible permutation.

Curators Joanne Stuhr and Tom Philabaum invoked only two restrictions: The artists had to be working in the U.S., and they had to be working in one of the warm-temperature techniques, as opposed to the hot precincts of classic furnace glass and glassblowing. Their open-mindedness has as its reward a show in which almost every piece is a fresh surprise. There's glass that's been fused, slumped and lampworked; glass that's been kept beautifully transparent and glass that's been rendered smokily opaque. Glass in gorgeous colors, and glass in workaday sheets of homely pale-green plate glass.

There's glass combined with photographs (Mary Van Cline's "The Feeling of Time" literally captures black-and-white nudes within a blue-and-clear glass urn). Glass with hair. Glass with bullets. Glass with coffee pots and metal and found magazine pictures and glass with just plain glass. Glass caught in a net, and glass draped on hooks (Mary Shaffer's great "Tool Wall").

There's glass shaped into faces (Mark Bokesch Parsons' eerie "Solitude") and houses (Dana Zed's "Tree of Life"), abstractions (Douglas H. Ohm's "Acantho Blastago") and even clothes on a line (Karen LaMonte's playful "Colored Clothesline"). Glass on pedestals and walls, and glass suspended from the ceiling. Robin Stanaway's room-size installation features a cloak made of glass leaves dangling in mid-air, casting lovely shadows on the walls and floor. There's even angry glass political art in the form of Richard Posner's strange "Live Not One Evil: Ant-Fascist Theme Park," a proletarian installation that's mostly concerned with assembling documentary evidence of American sympathy for the Nazis before World War II. It's opposite number, perhaps, is Kreg Kallenberger's "Valley at Red Point," an ethereal pyramid whose fleeting, changing images of a landscape make a subject of illusion.

Best of all is the almost total absence of the interior decorator glass aesthetic that rears its corny head in almost every glass show. Nearly every piece here is deft, intelligent and imaginative. So are the 50 works in the Etherton show, but they're conservative in the original sense of the word: They revere the Italian glass tradition that stretches over centuries all the way to the Middle Ages. Mano Volante (flying hands), as it's called, presents classic glass, the work of Italian masters and their American disciples who revere traditional glass art for its luxe, calme and volupté, to borrow a phrase from Matisse.

This is the place to go to see gorgeous glass in purples, reds and blues so luminescent they seem unearthly, the place to see elaborate teardrop forms trapped inside glass, their shapes repeated optically ad infinitum, to see sensuous slabs of solid glass twisted into human forms, to see delicate vase-like forms dressed in elaborate stripes and textures. Lino Tagliapietra, the featured Italian artist, shows six beautifully shaped hollow vessels, all finely marked with line and color. Dino Rosin, who showed a few works at Philabaum Gallery last fall, does a benchmark female torso, extraordinary massicio abstractions of clear glass, with bulbs of vibrant color within, and it must be confessed, a silly glass "Saturn," complete with rings and moons.

Etherton also is showing a single work by William Morris, probably the leading name in American glass art. Priced at a hefty $50,000, his "Rhyton Vessel" is one of Morris' trademark archaeologically inspired pieces. It's a goat-like animal atop an urn, and it's lovingly crafted and finely colored in green patina, crisscrossed with blue, made to look like something ancient.

A couple of other don't-miss shows remain from the glass extravaganza: Both Bero Gallery and the University of Arizona Museum of Art are exhibiting avant-garde work mixing photography with glass. At Bero, Tucson artists Sharon Kolnback and Camille Bonzani have collaborated on four assemblages that investigate the evocative, dream-like quality of cut glass placed over photographs. Jon Eastman traps photos in curving glass inside boxes, and Dennis Peabody inventively uses colored glass beads in startling wall collages. Over at the UAMA, there are a number of artists who have created interesting pieces about memory and loss. Toan Klein's "Search," a globe of blown glass, alone is worth making the trip upstairs to the small UAMA show. Klein has placed tiny photographs of human beings deep within what you might call an infinity vase. As you gaze inside, the people seem variously to be lost and found, searching for meaning and identity and beauty in the far recesses of the encircling glass. That's not a bad metaphor for the whole of Tucson's recent glass experiment.

¡Cálido! continues through June 8 at the Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 624-2333.

Mano Volante continues through May 29 at Etherton Gallery, 135 S. Sixth Ave. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Thursday, and 7 to 10 p.m. Downtown Saturday Nights. For information, call 624-7370.

Penetrating Image continues through May 12 at the University of Arizona Museum of Art. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 621-7567.

Glass and Photography continues through May 10 at Bero Gallery, 41 S. Sixth Ave. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Thursday and 7 to 10 p.m. Downtown Saturday Nights. For information, call 792-0313. TW

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