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Chihuly Venetians

A slideshow of some of the most recent work by Murano’s prodigal son, Dale Chihuly, currently exhibiting at  the Foothills Art Center, in Golden, Colorado.  The “Gilded Putti in Leaves with Swan”  and “Translucent Blue Putti Venetian with Gilt Leaves and Dragons” are impressive and seem to be a new,  softer direction that recalls some of the traditional glass themes of Murano.   The vases are a eclectic mix of both old and new styles,   for example a  spiked vase design seen in previous exhibits, but adorned with with a cherub.

The exhibit runs through June 30th.

Full-blown Excellence

Full-blown excellence

December 18, 2004
Ann Arbor News Bureau

For more than 700 years the island of Murano has been the center of Venetian glassmaking, supplying splendid, decorative and functional items to connoisseurs worldwide. But operations on the storied island have not always been calm or smooth.
Indeed, by the beginning of the 20th century, years of repeating traditional forms had caused the quality and popularity of Murano’s blown glass to decline. Then, a succession of innovative glass blowers propitiously reinvigorated the waning art, challenging tradition with inventive techniques and concessions to contemporary styles and tastes. By the 1950s, Murano glass had redoubled its original excellence and cachet. The century of rebirth is the time frame represented in “Murano: Glass from the Olnick Spanu Collection,” at the Detroit Institute of Arts through Feb. 27. Comprising glass treasures amassed by New York collectors Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu, the traveling exhibit includes some 200 items by 40 artists.
On view are vases, bowls, goblets and stoppered decanters whose gem-bright colors often appear as spirals or patches in contrasting hues. Alternately transparent and opaque, the disparate items have simple geometric or organic shapes, and sometimes are patterned or textured in relief. Lighted showcases set off the glass objects advantageously.

Among the 20th-century innovators represented are the manufacturers Paolo Venini and Giacomo Cappellin, who established a successful partnership in 1921, but four years later parted ways to establish independent glassworks (the still-flourishing Venini firm has sponsored the current exhibit’s tour). The list of inventive glass artists includes Giuseppe Barovier, Napoleone Martinuzzi and Carlo Scarpa.

Barovier’s circa 1919 “Mosaic Vase” is at once visually stunning and instructive, demonstrating how the artist updated an age-old technique. The surface of the vase is patterned with repeated spirals – most are yellow – created by the “a murrine” technique. According to it, slices of glass rods are embedded in the surface of a vessel, producing geometric or blossom-like motifs. Though developed in ancient Rome, the technique imbues the “Mosaic Vase” with modern air – that of art nouveau as expressed in the decorative, patterned painting of Gustav Klimt.
Martinuzzi’s “Ten-Handled Vase” of 1930 illustrates another form of experimentation. The dark green vase is matte-textured and has a grainy, irregular surface, attained by adding petroleum to molten glass. The bubbling action caused by the petroleum explains the descriptive term “pulegoso,” meaning pock-marked, applied to the glass.

Scarpa, one of the most important glass artists of the 20th century, is well represented in the exhibit. In particular, Scarpa is known for roughing up surfaces by etching or treating them with corrosive chemicals. His works also are known for their simple, geometric shapes, although his delightful “Seashells” of 1942 draw inspiration from the natural world.
Noteworthy, too, are Fulvio Bianconi’s and Paolo Venini’s “Handkerchief Vases” of 1950. These ethereal-appearing creations initially were molten-glass discs that, upended, gravitated to earth in folds evoking sheer cloth.
Viewers may recognize affinities between the “Handkerchief Vases” and the more recent work of American glass artist Dale Chihuly. That’s appropriate since, like many international artists, Chihuly studied and worked in Murano’s glass factories.
Murano’s artistic tradition continues then, in countries all over the globe. Viewers are privileged to see, showcased, the 20th century innovations that rejuvenated Venetian glass art.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is at 5200 Woodward Ave. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. For more information, call (313) 833-7900 or access www.dia.org,

Article © 2004 Ann Arbor News.

Murano: Where Innovation and Craft Meet

Murano: Where Innovation and Craft Meet
Collection of glassworks from legendary Venetian island illuminate the Detroit Institute of Arts with exhibition.
By Janet Bellotto
Tandem 12/5/04-12-12/04

The small island of Murano, just a vaporetto ride from Venice, opens up to creations using a magical medium that’s hot, gorgeous and at times very fragile – that’s Murano glass. It is a production place that flourished at the end of the 13th century and has developed with innovation between designers and craftsmen. Red Hot and Very Cool is an exhibition that illuminates the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) with over 200 glass artworks from the Olnick Spanu Collection.
A glassblower – if you’ve ever had the chance to meet one or hang around a glass furnace – are on their off-time moonstruck, but you’d have to be to manipulate a molten liquid at over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet their understanding of gravity and fluid mobility, along with a sense of design, has enamoured the world over for centuries. So it is no surprise that a successful piece relies on the collaboration between designer and master glassworker, and is the common working habit in Murano.

Murano glassmakers have been known for their development and refined technologies such as crystalline glass, enameled glass (smalto) multicolored glass (millefiori), and milk glass (lattimo). As well, in the early years, they were the only people in Europe who knew how to make a mirror.

Cappellin & Company, Venini & Company and Artisti Barovier & Company, are among the companies that helped to create what has become known as Venetian glass.
Paolo Venini was a lawyer from Milan who came to Venice in 1921. He formed a partnership with Giacomo Cappellin, a Venetian antiques dealer, which lasted for four years.

Together they started a glassworks, Cappellin Venini & C. and brought in Vittorio Zecchin as art director – this began the revolution of Venetian glass design. They produced simple shapes in transparent colours, compared to the heavily decorated designs of that time.

Much earlier the Barovier brothers formed Artisti Barovier in 1878, whose family history of glassmakers dates back to the 13th century. Although the company changed names several times, known today as Barovier & Toso, it was strong in its technique development and filing of patents. Going beyond kitschy paperweights and glass beads, the collection that New Yorkers Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu have been pruning has achieved international prominence with more than 500 pieces. It is a collection, primarily consisting of vessels – vases created from 1910 to the present, which was inspired by the purchase of Paolo Venini’s hourglass Clessidra in the early ’90s.

“Over the past two decades, glass has become a focus of collecting in the United States generally, but nowhere more so than in the Detroit area,” said Graham W. J. Beal, director of the DIA. “Presenting such a distinctive collection as Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu’s at the DIA has a particular resonance as is demonstrated by the group of related pieces from local collections.”

Besides boasting some of the artists of the last century – Carlo Scarpa, Thomas Stearns, Paolo Venini – contemporary works by Laura Diaz de Santillana, Lino Tagliapietra and Giorgio Vigna are juxtaposed in the exhibition offering up an evolution of the art of glassmaking in Murano.

Scarpa’s work, for example, favours vivid colours. He preferred to “study” with the master glass workers of Murano and along with friend Paolo Venini created innovative designs. The works in this exhibition are exemplary of this.
“Seduction”, the main factor that inspires the collectors in choosing objects, is apparent in Scarpa’s work Trasparente, 1926-1931 and in Giorgio Vigna’s Fuochi d’acqua, 2002.

Massimo Vignelli, also in charge of exhibition design, is well known for his glassmaking skills and is a featured artist in the exhibition. Fungo and Vetro e argento were created while he worked for Murano’s most prominent glass workshop Venini and Company.

While the glassblower faces the light of the glory hole (the furnace opening) it is the manipulation between molten glass, blowpipe, marver and vision that brings the tune of fluidity to beauties found at the DIA.

Red Hot and Very Cool runs at Detroit Institute of Arts, 200 Woodward Ave, December 10 to February 27, 2005. Visit www.dia.org for more information and a list of coinciding programmes.

© 2004 Tamdem News

Italian influence in Contemporary Glass Show at Steuben New York

Italian influence in Contemporary Glass Show at Steuben New York

A current exhibit at the Steuben flagship store in New York City, curated by the Corning Museum of Glass, offers a great glimpse of how much the Murano maestros have influenced the American Art Glass movement since the 1960’s. The whole learning cycle started with Dale Chihuly, who interned with Venini beginning in 1968. This seminal event opened the floodgate of collaboration that has helped American glass artists master their craft and develop their own signature styles and techniques.

The exhibit, contained in one room is an excellent introduction to the many of the techniques traditionally attributed to Murano masters, including less often seen cold work techniques battutto and inciso. The difficult art of creating Murrine was also on displayed magnificently by Richard Marquis, whose recreation of the Lord’s prayer in murrine was amazing (see photo). I have seen initials, and maybe a few words or an image created in murrine, but the entire Lords prayer was impressive. I cannot imagine how difficult and time consuming it was to create. Dale Chihuly’s work was well represented with a few vases, and a wonderful diaphanous pink glass sculpture, reminiscent of a conch. My impression of the entire exhibit was one of wonderful craftsmanship, all of the glass was executed flawlessly, with a whimsical modern touch. The craftsmanship, passion, and technical mastery of each item are superb.

I should have taken better notes so I could properly attribute each photo to each artist, but below are photos of the exhibit, I annotated as much as I could. Additional artists whose works should also be credited include Dante Marioni, Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg Sonja Blomdahl, William Gudenrath, Yoichi Ohira, Stephen Rolfe Powell, Katherine Gray, Isabelle Poilprez, Kait Rhoads, Marvin Lipofsky and Benjamin Moore.

If you happen to be in midtown Manhattan, and want to see a free exhibit of American Glass artists that use Venetian influenced techniques, stop by the Steuben store, located at 667 Madison Avenue. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday. There is no charge for admission to the show, which is open through July 30th 2005.

Murano: A quieter center for masterful Italian glass

Murano: A quieter center for masterful Italian glass

Atlanta Journal Constitution 9/16/04

Murano, Italy — Indoors, the master glassmakers practice their art before ovens heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius — 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit — deftly turning globs of molten glass into everything from small ornamental birds to museum-quality works of art. Outside, shops line the quiet canals that Murano uses for roadways. Boats bob beside the piers, water buses nose into docks to pick up passengers amid a sense of serenity and tradition. Many travelers are familiar with the charms of Venice, where buildings of spectacular and historic architecture rise out of the water to form one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But fewer know the allure of Murano, a peaceful, canal-laced city where the glassmakers’ art has flourished for centuries.

Murano lies just 40 minutes from central Venice by water bus — half that by water taxi. If it is less spectacular than Venice, it feels somehow more genuine. People actually live here. And it is free of the multinational gaggles of tourists bristling with cameras and clustering around tour guides that clog the walkways of its more famous neighbor. Tourists do not stumble on Murano by accident. But it is well worth taking the boat ride with the wind in your face and Venice at your back. Murano glass is justly famous.

The showrooms are stunning, stocked with glass peacocks, vases artfully swirled with color, faces, sculptures and even crystal chandeliers adorned with glass leaves and flowers that cost $50,000 or more. “That’s the Rolls-Royce or Ferrari of chandeliers,” Rossi said proudly. The comparison is apt. The key ingredient of Murano glass is not the silica sand, the soda ash or the red lead that are melted together to make it. Nor is the secret of its quality in the process, in which the materials are heated to 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,552 Fahrenheit) before being cooled to the 1,000 degrees that makes the molten glass pasty enough to be gathered in red-hot blobs on the glassmakers’ tools. It is in what happens next, in the artistry, the craftsmanship and the tradition. Most of the masters come from families of masters that stretch back five or six generations.

Most began at an early age and have committed themselves to the work all their lives. Some, like Guilano Tosi, have their creations on display in places like the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y. “The real Murano glass is very high quality,” said Maurizio Toso, Tosi’s cousin, who works with him on the island. The quality of the glass, he said, reflects “the quality of the makers.” A good quality of life is evident here, too. The pace is slow. People pass the time in cafes and sandwich nooks. The stores and showrooms are pressure free — not, Rossi noted, like shoe stores, where salesmen swarm over customers offering “help.”

Much of the business is done these days by mail or over the Internet anyway, but the beauty of Murano is not to be missed. Like Venice, which lies about a mile away across the water, Murano is composed of a cluster of small islands. About 7,000 people live here. It became the center of the glassmaking industry in 1291, supplanting Venice itself. Many of Venice’s buildings at that time were made of wood, and the risk of fire from the glassmakers’ ovens was deemed too great. Murano glass has been famous around the world since the 14th century. The masters became known for their bead-making skills and for the glass used in mirrors. The Murano Glass Museum offers a pleasant and informative way to while away an afternoon. Glass pieces in the museum, which was founded in 1861, date from as long ago as the first century A.D. On display are vases from the 15th century — some enameled, some with embedded designs — that are works of art. It is that tradition that today’s glassmakers sweating in front of their ovens strive to maintain.

Venetian glass: exquisite link to Pilchuck School

Venetian glass: exquisite link to Pilchuck School
By Matthew Kangas. Special to The Seattle Times (9/17/04)

Although “Murano: Glass from the Olnick Spanu Collection” is touring to three more museums after it leaves the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, nowhere will it have as much resonance as in the Pacific Northwest. Finally, visitors get to see the missing link in the Pilchuck Glass School story: Venetian glass in all its glory and influence. Without the famous Italian glassblowers whom Dale Chihuly and Benjamin Moore brought to Pilchuck from 1978 on, Pilchuck and American studio glass in general never would have reached the heights it has. Conversely, if the Murano masters had never come to Pilchuck to see the muscular, can-do young Americans at work, Venetian glass would still be in the doldrums. For that and many other reasons, “Murano” is a must-see. For one thing, it is possibly the most beautifully designed glass exhibition I have ever seen. With ingenious, backlit Plexiglas-covered cases by the giant of modern design, Massimo Vignelli, each of the 200 pieces gets its due. Arranged chronologically, the evolution of artistic styles, techniques and shapes from 1914 on is clearly laid out. Don’t expect a comprehensive history of Venetian glass (made on Murano Island in the Venice Lagoon since 1291) but a highly selective survey assembled by a New York couple, Giorgio Spanu and Nancy Olnick. We get their connoisseurs’ point of view rather than that of an art historian. Despite the ample treasures by 20th-century design giants like Carlo Scarpa, Giò Ponti and Vignelli, there are glaring omissions that keep the survey from being more than a cross-section of the Spanus’ taste. There is no Chihuly, no Robert Willson, no solid-glass sculpture at all, nothing from the famous Forge of the Angels Gallery where Picasso, Cocteau and others had work made, and nothing from S.A.L.I.R., the center of Murano engraving. Olnick and Spanu concentrate on the 1924-45 period which, interestingly, includes the Mussolini-era glass that inspired Chihuly’s famous “Venetians” series (1988-2004). he severe shapes, solid colors and allusions to the “machine age” of the 1930s are beautiful, if cold, but they mark a radical break from all the traditional frou-frous — filigree, engraving, lavish color — that characterize the prior 700 years of Venetian glass.

Once the island opened itself up to architects and others who admired glass but did not know how to make it, the rigid, blue-collar technicians were jump-started into executing the many facets of modern design. After art-nouveau, there are examples of art-deco influences, along with Chinese and Japanese art. After World War II, Scandinavian design, abstract expressionism, op art and the postmodern Memphis style were also felt. This exhibit is also a wonderful way to educate oneself up-close and personal about the somewhat complicated glassblowing processes used. Though everything begins on the blowpipe, a million things can happen before a piece reaches the showroom. Little colored canes or thinner filigree strands are added. Clear layers can be set over inner, colored ones, and walls can be changed with the introduction of tiny air bubbles. After cooling down in the annealing oven for a few days, the outer walls can be engraved, bathed in acid, or even chipped with a tool for special effects. Now, if only there were a couple like Spanu and Olnick in the Northwest so that our museums could also own and display the Italian glass that has been the hidden key to understanding the Pilchuck revolution.

Article © The Seattle Times 2004

Museum features marvelous Murano glass

Museum features marvelous Murano glass

DEBBIE CAFAZZO AND LISA KREMER; The Tacoma News Tribune (9/3/04)

When New Yorker Nancy Olnick acquired her first piece of Murano glass more than 15 years ago at a Sotheby’s auction, it was an impulse buy. A half-cobalt blue, half-emerald green hourglass caught her eye. She placed a bid, then didn’t think about it until the auction house called to tell her the piece was hers. She brought it home, placed it next to an Andy Warhol painting and the bewitching began. That first piece launched a love affair with Murano glass for Olnick and her husband, Giorgio Spanu. Soon, they were traveling the world collecting examples of glass from Murano, an island in the Lagoon of Venice that traces its heritage in glassmaking back to the 13th century. Beginning Saturday, visitors to the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art in Tacoma can share in the couple’s passion with an exhibit that includes more than 200 pieces from their personal collection. This is the only West Coast showing of the touring exhibit. It’s in Tacoma for nine weeks.
“To enter our collection, the glass has to be made on Murano – no matter where the artist is from,” Spanu said. Originally, the collection was intended to cover the 20th century, but as Spanu and Olnick delved deeper into the world of glass, they discovered new, young artists producing fabulous work. Thus, the exhibit spans the years 1914 to 2002. “It’s one of the most important collections of 20th-century glass in the world,” said Tina Oldknow, curator of modern glass at the Corning Glass Museum in New York. “It’s incredibly representative in terms of its breadth and depth of a period.” The exhibit was designed by Lella and Massimo Vignelli, with David Law, and is curated by Marino Barovier.

The collection is mainly vessels, with only a few glass figures. It’s arranged chronologically, beginning with a brightly colored piece produced around 1914 by Barovier and Co., one of Murano’s glass house dynasties, and ending with a nearly colorless glass and copper vase made by Giorgio Vigna in 2002. Walking through the exhibit is not only a tour through the history of glass art, but also of the major artistic and political movements of the 20th century.

From the boldly colored floral designs of the early part of the century, through the echoes of classicism and images of strength projected during the fascist 1930s to the boundless creativity unleashed following World War II and into the modern era, each of the glass pieces is a reflection of its times. Oldknow praised Olnick and Spanu for the variety of their collection. “They’re very rare in that many people who collect 20th and mid-century art don’t always collect contemporary,” she said. Spanu is a walking encyclopedia, whose knowledge of both the art of glassmaking and the artists – including Paolo Venini, Artisti Barovier, Carlo Scarpa, Thomas Stearns and others – is impressive. Where did he acquire it? “I read a lot,” he said with a smile. One reason the Olnick-Spanu collection is unusual is that glass art hasn’t always been considered high art, Oldknow said. “It’s always been allied with applied arts, or the decorative arts,” she said. “Until recently it hasn’t been used as sculpture. Like ceramics or fiber, these are subjects that have really expanded beyond their roots.” Art glass was never meant to be used, Spanu explained. “It is meant to embellish everybody’s life … to make your life richer,” he said. In the end, Spanu wants those who visit the museum to take away from the Murano exhibit the simplest of pleasures: beauty and peace of mind. “That’s why I have it,” he said. “To relax.”

If you go:

What: “Murano: Glass from the Olnick Spanu Collection”

Where: Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art, 1801 E. Dock St., Tacoma

When: Saturday through Nov. 7 Information: 253-284-4750; www.museumofglass.org

Also: Collectors Nancy Olnick, Giorgio Spanu and artist Benjamin Moore will offer a panel discussion about the exhibit at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Article © The News Tribune 2004