G8 at Winston Wachter

Being a center for glass artists, we have an abundance of good glass art in the Northwest, but one does not often see it outside of glass-specific galleries, such as the William Traver gallery. G8, currently on display at Winston Wächter, is a treat: a skillfully curated show that assembles work from eight artists with distinct approaches to this difficult medium.

What do I mean by “difficult medium”? Many things, actually. Because its creation requires years of training and specialized equipment and facilities, glass art is rightly recognized as a high craft, but the word “craft” is problematic to many people who maintain strong distinctions between art and craft. Glassblowers must be highly proficient to create even simple forms, and to create more complex objects requires time, trial and error that may not be understood and appreciated by the audience viewing it. Many view almost everything made with it as “merely decorative”…not something for serious collectors. Some may even regard glass as a banal medium because it is ubiquitous—in windows, bottles, jars.

The technical and material variety of G8 at Winston Wächter may help to shatter some of these notions. Mention of glass art often conjures visions of vivid, varicolored works such as Chihuly’s and the Murano glass that inspired him, so visitors may be surprised to see that the show’s palette is muted. The most colorful offering in G8 is Broken Bow, by Katherine Gray. The simple arcs could be arranged to form a rainbow, but are piled up to form a sculpture that is both melancholy and playful. (The mood really depends on the weather, doesn’t it?)

Softer colors are found in Mielle Riggie’s cast glass dresses. Here, the fragility of the material complements the thematic content and mystery of these ghostly garments. There are several female artists represented in this show, but Riggie’s pieces in particular are categorically feminine works, refreshing in their ethereal appearance, but still powerful. The intensity of glass-working (insert visions of the ever-so sinewy William Morris here), would demand a man in the minds of some. Indeed, it is an intense, hot, harrowing process to the uninitiated, and so it is all the more interesting to note that these placid, delicate dresses bearing a wishbone or an apple were forged of molten material.

Nothing in the show is quite as exquisite as Janusz Pozniak’s blown glass sculptures. The mathematical perfection of his lines would be compelling on a two-dimensional surface, but in three dimensions  they boggle the mind and cast a beautiful shadow. The two pieces, Sanctuary and Oubliette, are visual poems of the most exacting, formalistic variety. The clear, gridded shells (sphere in Sanctuary, teardrop in Oubliette) each enclose an opaque sphere within. The pure forms can evoke so much, but mostly one is just left in awe at the perfection of the forms…down to the individual bubbles centered between each intersecting line.

Two other monochromatic favorites were a different experiment in form. Armelle Bouchet O’Neill’s Northern Lights II is a handsome pair of solid black plates sand carved with sinuous lines. This is glass as bas-relief, but the fluidity of the design recalls painting more than sculpture. Her Landscape in White is a sunken vase also sand carved with sinuous lines, an object that recalls ancient artifacts despite being decidedly contemporary.

G8 is on display at Winston Wächter through August 31, 2012.