Sheer beauty: Exhibit at Wichita Art Museum features glass from Australia, the U.S.

05/25/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:34 AM

They sparkle, they glitter, they shine, and they all have the ability to break.

More than 90 decorative glass pieces crafted by noted artists from the U.S. and Australia will be on display at the Wichita Art Museum starting Saturday.

The traveling international exhibit “Australian Glass Art, American Links” offers the first American museum survey dedicated to contemporary Australian glass art. It was organized by the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash.

“They are stunning. It’s a show that puts its finger on everything that is happening in contemporary glass,” said Patricia McDonnell, director of WAM. “It’s such exquisite craftsmanship; I don’t know how a human makes it.”

These bold pieces display the rich diversity of talent and state-of-the-art pieces in the field of blown and non-blown glasswork.

Major works by nearly 20 Australian artists, along with glass art by three groundbreaking Americans, demonstrate the contemporary history of glass craftsmanship. An intricately designed canoe sculpture, stacked ice blocks and a whimsical pink and green teapot driving a car are examples from some of the finest glass artists today. The exhibit makes the viewer think twice about what glass is capable of. Some pieces have a narrative quality, while others are cartoony.

“There’s a restrained power that makes it equal to any other medium,” said the show’s curator Vicki Halper, a native New Yorker who has lived in the Pacific Northwest for decades. “What you have in Australian glass is this amazing source of non-blown glass. It can be opaque, not shiny; sometimes colorful, sometimes restrained colors.”

Several of the works are manipulated or carved after they are blown, which changes the surface. Many of these techniques are not known by the American audience.

A black bowl by Tom Rowney looks as if it is made out of pottery. White intricate patterns cover the outside surface, and a brown and white netting pattern decorates the inside. In a sculpture entitled “Hooligan” by Tom Moore, an emerald green and aqua striped monster-like fish creature is lying on its head and holding a translucent green car with its massive black claws.

Museumgoers can watch as the reflection and refraction of the light penetrates each piece and causes a minute change in texture. Works by American masters Richard Marquis and Dante Marioni stand alongside glass pieces by Australian greats Nick Mount, Giles Bettison and Jessica Loughlin. The museum is also home to a glass chandelier made by Dale Chihuly.

Not surprisingly, Halper, whose specialty is crafts, describes the show as “sheer beauty, surprise and excitement.” She said the show will offer a sense of wonder and satisfaction that viewers have not encountered with glass before.

“People are just going to be wowed,” McDonnell said.

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