Monday July 17, 2017 | by Lindsay Hargrave

The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass expands on historic focus with bold contemporary acquisition

Think of the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass and what might come to mind is the Neenah, Wisconsin, institution's wide array of historic glass paperweights and Germanic glass that make up the bulk of its permanent collection. That's why the museum's recently acquisition of Quantum, a contemporary installation by Angus Powers, Jon Clark and Jesse Daniels that incorporates glass with light, sound and video, was so significant. The installation, a gift of the artists to the museum, is currently on view through August 20, 2017, after which it will be stored and kept in the museum’s rotation dependent upon available space. The new work joining the mostly historic permanent collection signals the museum's expanded embrace of contemporary glass art, which is also reflected in its recent acquisition of a 2003 work by Alex Bernstein.

The Quantum installation, with sound, video, and refracted light that rakes across the walls, is bracing new direction, yet it fits neatly into the institution's strategic approach to telling the story of glass’s historical narrative. “What we’re really interested in doing is taking a visitor on a journey through the history of glass,” the Bergstrom-Mahler's executive director Jan Smith said in a telephone interview with GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet. This installation, quite the opposite of object-focused as the rest of the museum is, is the next stop on this journey and is the only example of installation art in the museum’s collection.

In a telephone interview with the Hot Sheet, Jon Clark, one of the collaborating artists on the project, said he hopes that the historic context will demonstrate the installation’s innovative qualities, and stretch visitors’ conceptions of what is possible in the medium. “Well it’s a gateway piece really . . . something that is extending the boundaries of what their expectations might be or what they might accept,” he said.

Pushing those boundaries can often be unsettling for viewers who come in with certain expectations, and those are just what this installation is meant to challenge. Reactions from viewers have been overwhelmingly positive. “I thought at first that it would be challenging for people,” Smith said. “I would have expected that very traditional sort of response, like ‘What’s this all about?’ but I think people have looked at it very favorably.”

This could be largely due to the sheer scale and atmosphere of the piece. It utilizes the unique qualities that come along with the interaction of glass and light—namely, reflection and refraction—along with video and sound to immerse the viewer in a certain moment in time and space. “It’s normally bathed in light and it has all these expectations, all these innate qualities, and we’re still using those qualities, we’re just using them at a lower lumen. So you still get this brilliance, you still get this sparkle, you still get all these things but it takes patience,” collaborator Angus Powers said, also a part of the conference call.

Those qualities paired with the immersive experience of installation, especially such sensory installation art as this, is what makes Quantum not only so unique, but so appealing to viewers. “The difference here is that these people are part of the work” Clark said. “It wasn’t just something to go in and look at and leave, it was something to be part of, and most of the people who got that came out just in a sort of transformative moment. And that was astounding because you realize the difference that this piece makes on certain viewers’ experience.”

Unfortunately, these transformative moments cannot last forever. Just as the viewer must eventually break their trance and emerge from the installation room, the museum must eventually take the installation down and return it to storage (on August 20, to be exact). Since Quantum is too large to remain permanently on view at the relatively small Bergstrom-Mahler, both Smith and the artists have expressed an openness to lending the installation to other institutions temporarily, or even creating a smaller iteration of it for more frequent viewing. Still, long after it is bubble-wrapped and packed away, installations like Quantum will hold a permanent place in the continuum of glass history—one that is only worthy of being placed in the museums that showcase it.


Angus Powers, Jon Clark, Jesse Daniels
Through August 20, 2017
Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass
165 N. Park Ave
Neenah, Wisconsin
Tel: 920 751 4658

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.