A weighty catalog featuring the work of Cristiano Bianchin, Yoichi Ohira, and Laura de Santillana is now available, coinciding with the October 29th opening of the comprehensive Venice: 3 Visions in Glass at Barry Friedman Ltd. in New York. As this title would suggest, all three artists are connected with Venice—whether the city is their birthplace or adopted home–and work on the island of Murano. The very premise of viewing contemporary glass artists through the lens of Venice seems paradoxical; in the catalog’s introductory essay, Janet Koplos, acting editor of American Craft, recognizes as much, asking, “How could the new come from a setting dominated by the old? How could innovation arise in workshops that are esteemed for their traditions?” Fortunately, these questions precede a collection of images that, in their beautiful deliberateness, demonstrate just this.
The extensive color reproductions that make up the bulk of the catalog are reason enough to take a look at it, but the text’s organization is also interesting, with sections devoted to each artist that proceed logically in the following order: artist statement, essay, interview, and images. In other words, there’s a lot of information here, a coming-together of first-hand explanations (from the artists) and carefully considered responses (by the essayists). The device of place is a straightforward way to look at the artists, yet it still yields insights. For example, for Ohira, working on Murano has enabled him to realize his dream “of merging the two different cultural sensitivities” of Italy and Japan, both cultures that “exemplify a very strong aesthetic for fine and delicate objects and exquisite craftsmanship.” With primary-source material like this, the catalog can further articulate the sense of place proposed by the exhibition.
Still, with her essay, Koplos connects the three artists together in a way that goes beyond simple physical geography to situate their work in a broader context: she recognizes the Rotko-esque quality of de Santillana’s glass slabs, Ohira’s citations of Japanese lacquerwork and Chinese ceramics, the affinity between Bianchin’s urn forms and those of ancient Egypt and Native American pottery. The technical prowess of the artists, as demonstrated by the reproductions, allows them to fit within the Murano tradition, but arguably it’s the conceptual content of the work that allows them to surpass it in a way.
–Analisa Coats Bacall