When the exhibitions committee at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey, met to discuss how they might showcase new trends and developments in contemporary glass art, they turned to their very own education coordinator Caitlin Vitalo, who not only holds a BFA (2010, Alfred) and MFA (2018, Tyler) in glass, but also serves as secretary of the Glass Art Society. Vitalo brought in copies of New Glass Review, Glass: The UrbanGlass Art Quarterly, and the British Glass Biennale catalog from 2019 to back up her argument that glass is undergoing a period of transformation of everything from how it's used in art to the new communities accessing it. Not long after her presentation to the committee, Vitalo received an offer from the Hunterdon's executive director Marjorie Frankel Nathanson to curate an exhibition exploring these significant changes, and "Glass In the Expanded Field," debuting Saturday, January 23, 2021, is the result.
The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet had the chance to catch up to a very busy Vitalo in the days before the opening to find out more about her goals for this exhibition, which will run through April 18, 2021, and includes work by Raghvi Bhatia, Sarah Blood, Scout Cartagena, Kate Clements, Deborah Czeresko, Dan Coyle, Andrew Erdos, Eric Goldschmidt, Jessica Jane Julius, Sharyn O’Mara, Ben Orozco, Yixuan Pan, Matthew Day Perez, Angus Powers, David Schnuckel, Kimberly Thomas, and Evan Voelbel. A virtual opening will take place at 7 PM on Saturday, January 23, which is free but requires advance registration to attend.
Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: Can you tell me a bit about your title for the exhibition, "Glass in the Expanded Field." Is it a reference to Rosalind Kraus's influential 1979 essay discussing the parameters of sculpture, architecture, and land art -- and do you see glass art going through a similar reassessment, redefinition?
Caitlin Vitalo: Yes, that is the reference. I’ve often noticed that artists who work with glass introduce themselves in so many different ways: glass artist, artist who works with glass, and sometimes simply as an artist - omitting the word glass all together. Even I felt like I was doing mental gymnastics to gauge the conversation topic and audience before choosing the words to define myself in relation to art. Glass is such an interesting medium because defining yourself as a glass artist doesn’t just relate to the material it references the community, the craft, and the history. I believe this hesitation to label oneself as a “glass artist” is because the definition of glass art has previously been limited to its decorative role outside the realm of what is considered art. A new language that encompasses the ways in which the material is being used by glass artists today hasn’t developed enough to be understood by artists who work in other mediums and art appreciators. Artwork in this exhibition, such as Yixuan Pan’s Ice Cold – a concept album on glass, requires a lot of further explanation to those outside the glass community as to why it is glass art.
This exhibition is part of a series of many other glass exhibitions that are challenging how glass art is defined by those outside the glass community. The part of the exhibition that is most exciting to me is that it’s presented in a museum that is not glass-centric and will hopefully reach a large audience from outside the glass community.
Glass: Can you talk a bit about how the artists were chosen for this exhibition?
Vitalo: I chose artists for this exhibition that I consider to be working with glass in new and exciting ways conceptually or materially. The artists presented are making work that is expanding the definition of who a glass artist is and what glass art can be. Additionally I specifically included a diverse group of artists in different stages of their artistic careers from emerging artists like Scout Cartagena to established artists such as Deborah Czeresko.
Glass: Can you say something about the work in the exhibition -- something that unifies the various artworks, and also what distinguishes them from one another?
Vitalo: Glass is a contradictory material – it’s hot and cold, liquid and solid, transparent and opaque, and strong and fragile all at the same time. While the work in this exhibition varies conceptually, all of the artwork explores contradicting terms. As if led by the example of the material, opposites are celebrated in this exhibition as complementary rather than at odds with each other. Evan Voelbel explores illusion and reality, Raghvi Bhatia celebrates the past through the present, and Kim Thomas investigates darker aspects of human existence through the lighthearted lens of childhood imagination.
Visually, every work is very different from another, varying in technique, scale, and concept. The artists in this exhibition utilize glass to present a commentary on a wide range of topics from Angus Power’s display of exploration through design and the vessel to Sharyn O’Mara’s representation of the ephemerality of love and companionship. Each artwork provides space for reflection on so many different and profound topics.
Glass: With travel restrictions, and public gatherings very limited, it is natural that the opening of the exhibition will be virtual. Did you design the exhibition as a virtual exhibition, or did you plan it thinking that people would be seeing it in person? How has the pandemic impacted the planning and organization of this exhibition?
Vitalo: I didn't design the exhibition as a virtual exhibition, although there will be a virtual version of the exhibition on view on our website by mid-February. When the museum had to close because of COVID-19 last March we planned and hoped the museum would be back open to the public before the opening of "Glass in the Expanded Field." With that in mind, I planned the exhibit to be viewed in person and thankfully the museum is open to the public Thursday through Sunday 11 AM to 5 PM, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
The pandemic certainly impacted the planning and organization of this exhibition. I had virtual studio visits with all of the exhibiting artists instead of in person conversations and was only able to view many of the pieces in the show through my computer screen. Artists making installations for the exhibition were only able to see the space through pictures and videos. Some of the artists in this exhibition also planned on making new pieces for the show. All of the new work was dependent on studios reopening to give the artist’s access to materials and equipment so I worked with the artists to create backup plans upon backup plans in case the new work couldn’t be made. It often felt as if I was planning multiple versions of one exhibition. There were a lot more moving parts to keep track of as well as constant check-ins with artists who were making new work while figuring out how to be creative through the stress of an ongoing pandemic. I was excited to curate a great exhibition and work with all of the wonderful glass artists in the exhibition and did my best to make sure I wasn’t adding stress during an already stressful and unprecedented time.
Installation of the exhibition also had its own challenges. There were many complicated pieces to install with a small crew of amazing and hardworking installers. Everyone coming to the museum for installation was required to have a negative Covid test and observe social distancing as much as possible.
The pandemic impacted every aspect of this exhibition, as it has impacted almost every aspect of people's lives. Putting together an exhibition during a pandemic just required some extra creativity and the ability to adapt and adjust to any pandemic related roadblocks.
Glass: What do you hope viewers of the exhibition come away with? What are your goals for the exhibit, and what do you hope to accomplish?
Vitalo: I hope viewers of this exhibition come away with a greater understanding of what glass art can be. Every piece in the exhibition is interesting in its own unique way visually and conceptually, I hope to spark an excitement and desire to further explore glass after leaving the museum.
I view this exhibition as a platform to give visibility to every participating artist and provide them with an affirmation to continue making work that expands the definition of glass art.
Glass: Anything else you'd like to mention that we haven't touched on?
Vitalio: I would just like to express how grateful I am for all of the work that the exhibiting artists, installation team, and the Hunterdon Art Museum staff did to help bring this exhibition to fruition during such a trying and stressful time.
IF YOU GO:
January 23, 2021 - April 18, 2021
"Glass in the Expanded Field"
Virtual Opening: 7 PM (EST), Saturday, January 23, 2021 (free with registration)
Hunterdon Art Museum
7 Lower Center Street
Clinton, NJ 08809