Since June 23, there has been a brilliant glow radiating from inside Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art. The arrival of the new exhibition, “Luminous Allure: Studio Glass from the Collection of Audrey and Norbert Gaelen,” offers an opportunity to gaze upon an impressive array of studio glass from the couple’s vast holdings.
“Audrey and Norbert Gaelen have given the Palmer a number of beautiful glass pieces in the last two years,” said Joyce Robinson, a curator at the museum. “It’s a remarkable collection, well over 100 pieces, and we’re delighted to be able to share a portion of it with our audiences. An exhibition dedicated to studio glass also seemed like a terrific summer show, particularly given the number of visitors who come to the region for the Arts Festival.”
Having first gained traction in the United States in the early 1960s, the studio glass medium has since maintained a steady reputation for artistic experimentation and viewer accessibility. The possibilities of molding, coloring and texturizing are seemingly limitless and culminate in a finished product that is unparalleled.
“I think glass is wonderfully versatile,” Robinson said. “Artists working in glass today, in most instances, see themselves as sculptors who happen to work with glass, an ancient art form that can be functional, expressive, figurative and non-objective. At the same time, there is a technical prowess that working with glass demands and this is amply evident in the works on view. We have glass that has been blown, fused in the kiln, cast and slumped.”
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Because studio glass is a relatively new medium, it has maintained its modernity. Naturally, there has been some evolution within the art form, but it still adheres to its modern base.
“Unlike patterned glass that can be dated and replicated, studio glass always feels contemporary,” said Jan Muhlert, the museum’s director. “The variety and difficulty of techniques appeals to the artists and are awe-inspiring for viewers.”
Perhaps the most exciting part about “Luminous Allure” is the showcasing of Harvey Littleton’s work. Referred to as the “Father of the Studio Glass Movement,” Littleton was an innovator in the studio and a well-respected instructor in the classroom. The Palmer also displays the work of Littleton’s most recognizable mentee, Dale Chihuly. While these names may seem foreign to the studio glass novice, being proficient in this medium is far from a prerequisite for enjoyment.
“Even though there is certainly information to be gleaned about each artist, this is very much a no-explanation-needed exhibition,” Robinson said. “The work is beautiful and engaging. The installation, thanks to our extraordinary staff, is spectacular. Visitors have been raving about the beautiful installation. It’s quite breathtaking.”
Considering that studio glass artists use fire as their canvas, there is an almost primitive side to the construction of their pieces. It is an attractive — and inherently dangerous — approach that gives studio glass a sort of raw credibility.
“Many of the artists admit, somewhat jokingly, to being pyromaniacs who love working with fire,” Robinson said. “I do think there is something elemental about working with molten glass which carries over to viewers’ responses to this complex mixture of silica, ash, limestone and heat.”
The fire and brimstone that makes the studio glass process so attractive will stay behind the scenes. However, what will be on display at the Palmer through Aug. 16 is the work of 33 artists who have helped ensure that this medium upholds its position of importance and beauty.
“This is the first exhibition of studio glass we have held in 16 years,” Muhlert said. “Visitors can expect to see a broad range of styles and techniques and this is the kind of exhibition people will want to see more than once and bring friends and family.”
A series of exhibition-related events, including a glassblowing workshop on July 25, are also scheduled in the coming weeks.