Tuesday February 20, 2024 | by Andrew Page

CONVERSATION: Curator Davira S. Taragin on her exhibition "Look What Harvey Did" at the Chazen Museum of Art in Wisconsin

The Chazen Museum of Art, which originally opened on the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus in 1970, is home to 24,000 works in its permanent collection, ranging from ancient Greek to modern African. In 2005, the museum was renamed after a major gift from university alumni Simona and Jerome Chazen (1927 - 2002), which allowed for a significant expansion when a second museum building opened in 2011. Running through August 16, 2024, is an exhibition of 40 works from the patrons' glass works. Titled "Look What Harvey Did! Harvey K. Littleton's Legacy in the Simona and Jerome Chazen Collection of Studio Glass," the exhibition spans 60 years and includes works from Michael Aschenbrenner, Dale Chihuly, Daniel Clayman, Dan Dailey, Clifford Rainey, Ginny Ruffner, and Lino Tagliapietra, among others. The exhibition was curated by Davira S. Taragin, who spoke to the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet by telephone about how she approached the project.

Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: How do you feel the work in the Chazens' personal collection compares to some other well-known museum collections, such as the Heineman Collection at The Corning Museum of Glass?
Davira S. Taragin: When Amy Gilman [Chazen Museum director] called me about the project, that was one of the first things that came to me. I thought "My God, how exciting it would be to contextualize the Chazens as collectors amongst those collections of that period that I know." The Chazens knew a lot of the players in that particular moment in collecting. Collecting is a very important subject we sometimes ignore. Harvey was a catalyst. Collectors are also important as they help promote and support the artists and the field. From a quality standpoint, the Chazens’ personal collection is one of the major collections. They built a collection based upon personal relationships and serious scholarship. Mrs. Chazen really did her homework.

Ginny Ruffner, Another Pretty Face, 1993. courtesy: chazen museum of art

Glass: Where did the Chazens buy their work?
Taragin: In addition to buying from galleries, Mrs. Chazen followed the auctions. She knew the auction houses, which is where the Chazens bought early and mid-century paintings among other artworks that were not glass, and I believe this gave her another level of knowledge beyond that of many glass collectors. She is accustomed to researching artists, their oeuvre, and their place within art history before acquiring a work; that’s an approach they brought to Studio Glass as well. As a result, some of the works they acquired are absolute gems.

Daniel Clayman, Ripple, 1999. H 11 1/2, W 24, D 18 1/2. courtesy: the chazen museum of art

Glass: What kind of scholarship did Mrs. Chazen do?
She told me that when she started, there weren't many books. There was Susanne Frantz's book Contemporary Glass: A World Survey, which became our Bible when it came out in 1989, but beyond that, there was Ray and Lee Grover's book Contemporary Art Glass, published in 1975, which she frequently used. It wasn't easy.

Harvey K. Littleton, Triple Loops, 1978. Furnace-worked barium/potash glass with Kugler color, plate glass base. H 14 11/16, W 15 1/4, D 12 in. courtesy: chazen museum of art

Glass: How did you approach putting together the show of 40 works, as you were limited to the work in the Chazens' personal collection, right?
Taragin: Well, as far as the collection goes, the artists and works we associate with early Studio Glass are not as well represented as those from the last decades of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first. There were not as many contemporaries of Littleton available, so the aim of this show was to look more broadly at the legacy. And we didn't want to do a crammed installation; we had to think about what would work in the size space we had. So yes, the show was not meant to document Harvey Littleton's work or that of his students. Instead, I immediately realized that this collection captured so many of the ways in which glass has evolved from Harvey Littleton's first efforts. Some of those evolutionary lines were direct, in the case of Chihuly, who had been Harvey's student at the Madison program, but in other cases, I thought about some of the things that Harvey said. At the 1972 National Sculpture Conference, for instance, when he said, "technique is cheap," he was pushing artists to deal more with the content of their work. I say “we” because during the days that I spent familiarizing myself with the collection, Mrs. Chazen and I talked constantly about the show, the artists, the movement and the story we were telling, the couple’s background, and their passion and support of the arts. It was an incredible experience.

Howard Ben Tré, Second Flask, 1989. Cast glass, brass, lead, gold leaf, patina, and pigmented waxes. H 71, W 19, D 18 in. courtesy: chazen museum

Glass: So when you and Mrs. Chazen titled the exhibition "Look What Harvey Did!" were you thinking about his wider impact, and how people connected to some of his early insights?
Taragin:Yes, because he made us think. Not only him, but as a community working together, each of the artists in the show advanced the idea of glass as a medium for artistic expression and contributed to the movement’s evolution. Even now it's an evolutionary process.

Glass: What do you hope that viewers come away from the exhibition with?
Taragin: I hope that they delight in the creativity and ingenuity of the artworks. Each of these artists have used glass as a vehicle for contemporary expression.



Nov 6, 2023 – Aug 16, 2024
Look What Harvey Did: Harvey K. Littleton’s Legacy in the Simona and Jerome Chazen Collection of Studio Glass
Chazen Museum of Art
Madison, Wisconsin
Exhibition Website

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