Published in The Olympian, March 7, 2014 By Rosemary Ponnekanti
Trio of new exhibits at Tacoma museum dives into poetics of glass
Glass bottles and balls are nothing new. But glass as poetry is a concept that’s not often explored — which is why three new exhibits at the Museum of Glass are such a delightful juxtaposition.
In “Coastal Alchemy,” Anna Skibska, Meg Holgate and Trenton Flock join forces to create poetry out of combined glass, paper and words; behind them, Jen Elek and Jeremy Bert blast out a glass ball-and-light pop song of sheer exuberance in “Look! See?” And in the grand hall lobby, “Bohemian Boudoir” takes you straight into a sultry 1920s chanson, full of reclining nudes and jewel-hues.
“Coastal Alchemy” doesn’t even begin with glass.
Hundreds of wafer-thin muslin sheets, printed with words, flutter suspended in the entryway like a flock of white birds. Behind them a projection of pale blue moon and deep indigo night are the backdrop to a giant black shadow — Haystack Rock.
The words are a poem called “Cannon Beach,” part of a Northwest cycle by Seattle poet Trenton Flock (also in book form by the doorway, in case you want to read it as well as admire the installation). And the mood of both the poem and the fluttering pages set the tone for the rest of the exhibit, which stretches down through Meg Holgate’s minimalist work on one side and Anna Skibska’s fairy-tale work on the other.
You couldn’t imagine two more different glass artists. Holgate is all veil and nuance, her two- dimensional works setting paper horizontals in pale greens and beiges under translucent glass. Her glass sculptures — thick glass “rocks” of mottled charcoal, orange-brown and lime green, which squeeze into each other like anemones — echo the same landscape in the paper and paint works, a place where the beach is hinted at yet omnipresent. Her “Studies,” small rectangles of translucent glass, include three fascinating panels daubed with a honeycomb of circular glass beads, a blue or white mass like melted candy.
Skibska, on the other hand, builds fairy tales out of flameworked glass threads. Unlike her other work shown at MoG — enormous, intricately fragile landscapes — in “Coastal Alchemy” she creates candy-floss glass structures floating from above, spinning out of the wall or rooting down into the floor with incredibly thin tendrils. Her finely-spun glass filaments make golden constellations, gray clouds, or silver rectangular tunnels.
It’s a perfect medium to convey the misty vagueness of Northwest water: “Raindrops” is a cloud of indigo, dripping twin twists of clear glass. “Oysterville” hangs flat, a sheet of interwoven glass threads like metal spun into taffy.
On the walls, though, she’s branching out even more. With flat glass collages, glass shards inscribed with words and mixed media, she tells a mysterious story of an alter-ego called “La Skibska,” who admires coastal flora, ignores knocks at the door and admires her bulldog. It’s an interesting path but a little childish, and it sits jarringly with the maturity of her glass sculpture.
Behind this calm, watery world, the gallery bursts into primary colors like a pinball arcade.
Jen Elek has plastered the walls with her glass gumballs, giant and glistening, while Jeremy Bert creates equally vivid installations of flashing lightbulbs, neon tubes and mirrors — a fun house that really is fun. But while the googly-eyed cannisters and the curved glass worms smooching each other sing like a ’70s pop song, it’s the back wall that gets deep into metaphor.
Giant plastic letters that light up with a switch and come with a handy shoulder strap hang on hooks waiting for you to pick them up and use them to turn yourself into walking signage. Parsing the philosophy behind this inversion of consumerist pop art would take all day, which is why just interacting with the art is much more fun.
In the lobby, a wall of six cases at hip height offer the museum’s third new piece of glass poetry. Called “Bohemian Boudoir,” the cases are stuffed to the gills with Czech crystal objects from the early 20th century: brushes, hat pins, perfume bottles, decanters, cosmetic jars in jewel hues of topaz, sapphire, emerald and ruby, speaking of ultimate Gatsby luxury, of lacy lingerie, heavy scents, heady dreams.
But it’s the details that really seduce: etched ships, feathered stopper crests, a naked Venus emerging from twining fish, leaves, flowers, reclining nudes with big thighs and dreamy expressions. And it’s all redolent, with that chunky, angular elegance of early 20th-century design, of a more poetic era, long lost to plastic hairspray bottles and disposable make-up wipes.