Who would have thought Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia would inspire fine art displayed in a premier museum?
Glass artist Sidney Hutter created a multilayered glass vase that shimmers with psychedelic colors. Dye was placed on dozens of 1/4-inch slices of laminate creating the illusion of clear glass from one perspective and a rainbow of colors from another.
"Jerry Vision Vase #7" is one of 62 glass works featured in "Contemporary Directions: Glass from the Maxine and William Block Collection." The exhibit runs through July 7 at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
Museum designers display the stunning glass works created by 49 artists in two stark white galleries. Some pieces sit on pedestals that allow visitors a 360-degree view. Others are grouped in a large rectangle filled with white sand, glass in its organic form.
Although the exhibition is fairly small compared with the museum's blockbusters shows such as the bi-annual Carnegie International, it is well worth the drive.
What distinguish studio glass from mass-produced glass pieces are origin and artistry. Studio glass is created in an artist's studio rather than in large workshops or factories.
The contemporary artists who created the exhibition's works explore broad themes and may incorporate other artistic media such as paint and sculpture in a piece. The pieces in the collection represent several artistic techniques including blown glass, cut glass and painted work.
Therman Statom's "Midwestern Autumn" is constructed in the shape of a 6-foot-tall ladder. The plate glass is painted and adorned with various shapes and colors, often remnants of his other creations.
Another display has several waterlike alien creatures formed from colorful, delicate wisps of glass. In contrast, more abstract pieces look like slices of unfinished rock that are decorated with brass and wood.
Works by well-known glass artists such as Dale Chihuly are included in the collection. However, the Blocks limited their collection to no more than three pieces by any one artist.
For those who want to learn more about the technique and artistic process, a video and educational area is set up with tables and reference materials.
Maxine and William Block collected the studio glass from artists in the United States, Europe and Australia between 1988 and 2001. The couple, owners of Block Communications, the parent company of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade newspaper in Toledo, have collected art since the 1940s. They began acquiring glass in 1988 to decorate their Toledo apartment.
During the collection process, the Blocks, who have homes in both cities, purchased what they liked, according to curator Sarah Nichols. "They were attracted to the quality, color and often whimsy," she said.
Nichols, curator of decorative art at the Carnegie, co-organized the exhibition with Davira Taragin, director of the center for glass and curator of modern and contemporary glass at the Toledo Museum of Art. The exhibit will be shown in Toledo in 2003.
Many works are promised donations to the Toledo and Pittsburgh museums.
A complementary exhibit "William Morris: Man Adorned" is on display adjacent to the exhibit. In contrast to the white walls and colorful glass art, Morris' work is displayed in deep earth tones.
The 11 works include faces and adornments that blend elements of aboriginal cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. He uses glass as well as teeth, shells and other natural objects to create incredibly expressive faces.