Render: Responding to Glass

February 24th – April 30th, 2016
Events, Exhibitions

Curated by Rachel Nackman
Opening on Wednesday February 24th. On view through April 30th.   

Exhibiting artists include: Graham Caldwell, Benjamin Degen, Diana Drake, Susan Hamburger, John McDevitt King, Stefanie Pender, Mia Rosenthal, Celeste Wilson, and Lia Zuvilivia

“We learn to see only so much as is needful for our purposes,” wrote artist-critic Roger Fry in 1909, in a groundbreaking essay on aesthetics. “Just enough to recognize and identify each object or person; that done, they go into an entry in our mental catalogue and are no more really seen.” A successful rendering doesn’t necessarily hand us the key to our cognitive reference bank. Perhaps more effective is a rendering that delivers to us a moment within its creator’s experience of that subject – a door between their perception and ours, propped open through observation.

Render: Responding to Glass explores the unique challenge of glass, both as a subject and as a tool. The nine artists in this exhibition approach glass and the question of its perception with curiosity and wit, encouraging us to consider (and reconsider) our own responses to this ubiquitous and often strange material.

Innovators have historically used glass as a tool for understanding the physical world. As mirror, window, or lens, glass allows us to observe others, to see ourselves, and to capture what might otherwise slip beyond the reaches of our comprehension. The material affords us a limited ability to contain and to control the unpredictability of our surroundings, while exposing us further to the real, the raw, and the unexplainable truths of our world.

While glass is powerfully useful it is also, as John Garrison writes in his recent study of the material, a “peculiar object — one that we rarely acknowledge as an object because we are constantly looking through it to see something else.” The qualities that make glass a helpful tool for an artist are the very qualities that make it challenging to render in a traditional sense. Its surface is both transparent and reflective. It is light and fragile but maintains a solid structure. It can manipulate light and form to dramatic effect, but it can also tend toward unobtrusiveness, blending in or disappearing.

Benjamin Degen and Susan Hamburger, who both work within the tradition of representational drawing, show that a descriptive image need not be exact to impart an experience. Degen and Hamburger each communicate the character of glass by attending exclusively to certain elements of its visual presence. In his painting Old Captain, New City (2014), Degen dramatizes the transparency and color of glass, slipping an emptied beer bottle into a room like a green scrim, pinning time in the space without interrupting the moody tousle of patterned bedclothes, floorboards, and limbs. Here Degen places the familiar old bottle in the anxious center of an urban transformation, with glass also playing the role of interloper, in the form of agglomerating luxury condominium windows.

In her Stack Suite drawings, Hamburger provides a humorous take on the refined still life. During a 2005 residency Hamburger observed the piling up of used glasses and dirty dishes in her quarters. With the irreverence characteristic of her practice, Hamburger decided to elevate these inelegant found objects, posing them within carefully balanced landscapes, translucent constructions interspersed with overripe fruits. Limiting her palette to blue ink, Hamburger focuses on form and organization, using an economic accumulation of line to reveal the heft and fragility of each glass object, showing us how it plays with others.

John McDevitt King’s drawings were made in response to a notable glass object in his Brooklyn Navy Yard studio: a window marred by dried adhesive from old duct tape, applied and removed sloppily by a previous resident. Looking Glass (2014) is both a meditation on surface and a direct rendering of glass. Using frottage King pulled a print from the interior of his window, later enhancing with pencil the found abstraction of the tape residue, a particular imperfection that has become a cross-medium motif in his studio work.

Celeste Wilson similarly responds to the physical specificity of glass, translating its flaws into otherworldly graphic renderings. In her Drawing from Imperfections (2014), Wilson presents a series of small lens-shaped objects and drawings alongside a larger freestanding glass globe. The lenses are taken from the sample spheres that Wilson blows when she begins her work each day, to test the consistency of the glass in the furnaceand determine how to adjust her process to collaborate with the day’s batch of material. In homage to each unique composition, Wilson projects light through the lenses onto paper, tracing in ink the shapes effected by glitches in the glass. The resulting drawings resemble lunar views through a telescope. As renderings of glass, they are unrecognizable, but they are utterly literal depictions.

Wilson’s  globe further comments on the arch beauty of imperfection and its relationship with craftsmanship. The tall, fragile globe bears a host of flaws, which Wilson has isolated and surrounded with fine hand-etched lines. Through repetitive and time-consuming labor, Wilson emphasizes those moments in the material that might otherwise be grounds for its destruction, clarifying her position on value, its subjectivity and its fungibility.

Mia Rosenthal is interested in the history of humanity’s efforts to “render the invisible visible,” and her work explores the place of technology in that process of enlightenment.Microscope (2015) is an intellectual portrait of glass, illustrating in particular the role of the material in the development of the lens, a powerful innovation. This tondo traces the history of the microscopic lens and its impact on our ability to observe the natural world. Concentric rings follow the lens from its early use in examining fleas to its contemporary use in observing hydrogen atoms through photoionization microscopy.

Graham Caldwell’s mirror boxes provide a space in which attention to material and self-regard tangle. A surprising amount of craft goes into the creation of Caldwell’s boxes, which appear almost algorithmically generated. The finished pieces ask you to examine the volition of glass, to understand what it will do when left to its own devices with a bit of strategic guidance. They also ask you to confront the intense urge to find yourself within the material, to see yourself mangled and distorted, in a way that is neither unsettling nor revealing. Immediate associations with fun house mirrors may come to mind, but here the subject is not a stranger version of you; it’s the oddity of the material, and your reaction to it.

Diana Drake’s polished glass puddles masquerade as the elegant evidence of a viscous accident. Here Drake counts on our human quickness to interpret what we perceive as reality. Yet like Caldwell’s boxes, Drake’s puddles are implicit renderings of the natural desires and capabilities of glass -- what the material does when Drake embraces its unpredictability. To render is also to melt down a material until it assumes an alternative form, to cause it to become something else. If rendered in this physical sense, as Drake shows us, glass emulates the two states of matter between which it wavers, choosing to behave as a solid but to look very much liquid.

Stefanie Pender’s glass 3D-printed objects represent the renderings of programmatic ideas. Using computer-aided design software Pender draws a geometric pattern, which she uses to program a tabletop robot that controls the lateral position of a metal plate beneath a small furnace. While the furnace extrudes a ribbon of molten glass onto the plate below, the robot moves the plate according to Pender’s pattern. The hot glass ribbon piles up and interlaces, gradually forming a complex coiled object with a shape and stature determined in part by the directive Pender has established and in part by the propensity for glass to find this shape when heated. Pender’s gossamer objects spring from a conversation between control and chaos, formula and wild beauty.

Lia Zuvilivia, originally an abstract painter, began working with glass by cutting the material into small pieces that mirror elements of her painterly visual vocabulary. She arranges ovals, triangles, and arcs within boxes as a method of translation, leaving the hand-cut edges of the glass shapes unpolished and imperfect. Placing the pieces in suspension within the box, she constructs a tight drawing with a toothy line. With exposure to light, Zuvilivia’s glass boxes reconstruct these drawings on the floor and walls of the space, creating of themselves a shifting set of shadow replicas.

The remarkable work collected here represents just one selection of artists’ responses to glass. Throughout Render, visitors to UrbanGlass are invited to bring paper and pencil into the gallery and to engage with their own response to glass. As a wider variety of drawn responses is amassed, a selection of visitor-submitted work will be added to the installation. This participatory drawing project is intended to expand the scope of Render -- to acknowledge the visual challenge of glass and to impart the multiplicity of our experiences with it.

About the curator: Rachel Nackman is a web developer and independent curator based in Brooklyn. From 2007 to 2015, she was the curator for contemporary drawings collector Wynn Kramarsky, and she completed her MA in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts in 2011. She is an avid runner and a proud member of the advisory board at Kentler International Drawing Space.

Event Schedule
February 24th – April 30th, 2016
Agnes Varis Art Center
647 Fulton St
Brooklyn, NY 11217