The Wichita Art Museum’s “Ritual and Desire” is an exercise in contrast.
The exhibition, which opens for the summer this Saturday, is ostensibly a contemporary glass art show.
But of the three artists included in the exhibition, only one – Beth Lipman – has created glass art in the way viewers traditionally think of it.
“Ritual and Desire” challenges the viewer to explore the art form deeper, said Patricia McDonnell, director of the Wichita Art Museum.
“They are very consciously looking back into cultural history to examine and find meaning in the traditions of glass, and how then to carry some of those meanings into our world today,” McDonnell said.
So what exactly will you see in this exhibition?
It’s divided into three distinct sections – one featuring clear glass art, one featuring mostly paper art in an all-black palette, and a wall of wallpaper featuring glass-themed patterns.
The three women exhibiting – Lauren Fensterstock, Cassandra Jones and Lipman – are all looking back in time to find meaning in 17th- and 18th-century glass art tradition, then trying to apply that to the modern era.
For example, Lipman’s “Laid (Time-) Table with Cycads” juxtaposes modern-day objects like bases, plates and tablecloths with a fantasy Paleo landscape underneath.
“It is one piece of an ongoing series of explorations that investigates the age were living in – the age of the Anthropocene – and juxtaposing that with deep time, geological time, prehistory,” Lipman said. “This is kind of one step further in thinking about where we’re at” in relation to a time before humans.
“Ironically I’m working in a material that uses a lot of resources to express that,” she said.
In the process of transportation and installation, some pieces are bound to break, she said. She sees that as a good thing, for the most part.
“Sometimes I’ll remake objects; a lot of times I’ll use the broken objects,” she said. “The piece is in some ways alive because it continues to change and evolve over time. Every place that’s hosting the installation will have a slightly different variation of the work.”
In Fensterstock’s dark-hued art, you’ll find “Colorless Field,” a large installation featuring thousands of cut strands of paper and glass reflecting pools.
“The title ‘Colorless Field’ is a play on Color Field – 20th-century monochromatic painting,” Fensterstock said. “It was supposed to be this very sublime experience of painting. The American lawn is another idea of the 20th century that’s also about attempted sublimity, when in reality it’s this total construction. For me, this is two ideas of the 20th century coming together – Color Field and the American lawn.”
The wallpaper – the only splash of color in the exhibition – was commissioned by the Wichita Art Museum to include patterns featuring the museum’s vast collection of Steuben glass.
The exhibition is sponsored in large part by the museum’s F. Price Cossman Trust.
“We are eager to serve his legacy, and one of the many ways we serve his legacy is by having active glass art programming,” McDonnell said. “This kind of trend in glass art has existed for some time, so come see that glass art can be very large-scale. We see it in Chihuly, but he’s not the only artist plowing this territory.”
‘Ritual and Desire’ Opening Party
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.
What: Opening reception for “Ritual and Desire,” the Wichita Art Museum’s summer opening. Featuring music by Joe Stumpe and Fly By Night, a cash bar, and other merriment. Artist Cassandra Jones will be in attendance.
Admission: Free for WAM members, $10 for nonmembers