John Perreault, the former executive director of UrbanGlass, died on September 6, 2015. from complications of gastrointestinal surgery. He was 78 years old. From 1993 to 1995, Perreault served as artistic director of UrbanGlass, and was appointed executive director in 1995, a position which he maintained until 2002. He was also the curator of the Robert Lehman Gallery at UrbanGlass, as well as the editor of GLASS Quarterly magazine. Perreault was a poet and a painter, but was probably best known as the chief art critic for the Village Voice and SoHo Weekly News, as well as a regular contributor to ARTnews. He was also senior curator at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on State Island, as well as the Everson Museum and the American Craft Museum. Perreault championed many art movements from feminist art to realism, pattern and decoration movement art and performance art. An early translator of conceptual art, his reviews were legendary, and thankfully devoid of “art speak.”
During his time at UrbanGlass, Perreault had a profound influence on the staff and the artists who came to create their work in the studio. “I would not be doing what I am doing now if weren’t for John Perreault,” says Brett Littman, executive director of the Drawing Center. “He hired me at UrbanGlass [as Associate Director] when I was 25 years old, and for the next six years was a great friend and mentor to me. He taught me about art, craft, design, food and gave me the opportunity to write.”
Perreault also encouraged glassblowers and other artists who worked in glass, and dared to promote craft as art, an opinion that alienated some of his colleagues at the time. However, visitors to UrbanGlass during his tenure, such as Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Jennifer Bartlett, the Starn Twins, Maya Lin, and designer Eva Zeisel, were eager to utilize glass in their work. “He was not the type of person that ever made me feel inferior, even though I was just some guy off the street who just happened to come into Urban for a demo and got hooked on glass,” said Jeff Richards. “John gave me feedback that made me reanalyze what I thought of my work, and helped push me in a direction that I feel has helped me produce what’s more true to what I feel and want to say, as a opposed to making what I think might sell. I'll always be indebted to my experience at UrbanGlass while John was the Executive Director.”
Perreault conceived and organized the first “Day Without Art" in 1989, which illustrated the impact of AIDS on the art world. When I proposed The Bead Project in 1997, he championed the idea and helped raise the funds to launch the program. He believed in the power of art to give voice to issues such as poverty, gay rights, social justice, and feminism.
“John was an amazing influence in my artistic and professional life, just as he was for so many emerging artists,” says Melissa Potter, former UrbanGlass education director. “I worked for him at a time in New York when feminism was out of fashion in the art world, and so his history—which he shared generously with me—with important women artists was hugely influential. I was struggling to make a living while keeping an artistic practice, and so his support was part of what kept me going. He probably didn’t even realize how important it was.”
Perreault made us all look at art in a different way. When he first started painting with toothpaste, I would come back to the office with a report of the new and unheard of brands I had seen at the dollar store around the corner. When he told me he was going to start painting with instant coffee, I never doubted for a moment its visual impact.
“John Perreault was influential for countless thinkers and makers, myself included,” says artist Beth Lipman, another former education director at UrbanGlass. “His wit, intelligence, and provocations acted as a catalyst on my creative practice and life in general. His passing is a profound loss for our community.”
—Currently the managing editor of ARTNews, Annette Rose-Shapiro is the former publisher and managing editor of GLASS Quarterly.