Tuesday December 15, 2009 | by intern

The year the glass ceiling was shattered? Thoughts on the 2009 Miami shows

FILED UNDER: Art Market, Events, New Work, News

Bullseye Gallery's debut as exhibitors at prestigious Art Miami included this piece: Jessica Loughlin, Becloud 1, 2009. Kilnformed and coldworked glass. H 30 1/4, W 24 1/4, D 3 in. courtesy: bullseye gallery

As the heat and light surrounding the Miami contemporary art shows begin to dissipate (at least until next year), it’s an appropriate time to reflect on how glass figured into what has arguably become the most important commercial event in visual art. Anchored by the behemoth Art Basel Miami Beach and the longer-running Art Miami show, and multiplied by the dozens of satellite fairs that have sprung up to bask in their white-hot glow, the Miami shows the first week in December are a dialog between show organizers, gallery exhibitors, and visitors, all of whom reinforce in one another what constitutes the most-sought-after in contemporary art. The organizers are extremely careful about what galleries they invite to exhibit, the galleries are extremely careful about what art they bring, and the collectors wander from show to show, conferring their acceptance of the hierarchy by fighting to attend the hottest cocktail parties, and, most importantly, by choosing where to spend their money.

After Art Basel, the next most prestigious show is Art Miami. After that, possibly Scope. Red Dot is somewhere further along the line. Who confers this distinction? Who says one is “higher” than the other? Who says the artworks on view at Art Basel are any more significant than what is being shown at Scope? We are not making this claim. But what remains very much apparent is that based on the prices work sells for, media attention, and the fuss, the work being shown at Art Basel Miami Beach is slightly more attention-grabbing than what’s at Art Miami, and so on, and so on, down the line.

For artists working in glass, often very sensitive to being slighted by the art establishment, it’s important to understand that the goings-on in Miami are an intensification of the elitism of the contemporary art gallery world and not directed at any particular medium. Even though work in glass might be slightly more difficult to find than at a glass-friendly show like SOFA Chicago, there is plenty of evidence that there is no bias against glass as a material for fine art. Though no gallery devoted exclusively to work in glass exhibited at Art Basel, there were many works on display that incorporated glass—a total of 57 according the show’s online catalog that can be searched by media. Pictured below is Tony Feher‘s Birth Stone (2008), which draws on found-object glass, and was exhibited by the New York gallery D’Amelio Terras.

Tony Feher, Birth Stone, 2008. Glass bottles, glass marbles. H 14, D 30 in. courtesy: the artist and d’amelio terras, new york

The work on display in Miami is not about technical virtuosity alone, at least not in the way it figures into much of the work at a show like SOFA. That’s certainly not to say one couldn’t find expert work in Miami. At the SCOPE show, for instance, Marvin Lipofsky’s “Soviet Series” was shown by Micaëla Gallery and “attracted a lot of attention,” according to gallerist Micaëla Van Zwoll. But talk to artist Tim Tate, who had a successful showing of a series of video/glass vessel works showing with Mayer Fine Art at the Red Dot fair, and he attributes that success more to the narrative or conceptual value of the work than its actual forms themselves.

Marvin Lipofsky, From the "Soviet Series," 1989. (Blown at L’vov Experimental Ceramico-Sculptural Factory, L’vov, USSR, with help from Ivan and Sasha.) H 14, W 16, D 11 1/2 in. courtesy: micaela gallery, san francisco

“If you’re selling technique-driven glass, then Art Basel is not the place for you,” Tate told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet in a telephone interview. “The glass is superfluous.”

Both Tate and Van Zwoll confirmed seeing many familiar faces at the shows—gallerists Douglas Heller, Maurine Littleton, and Duane Reed, were among those glass dealers attending the show as visitors rather than exhibitors—but also recognized that these are fundamentally fresh, and undoubtedly exhilarating, venues for glass. As Van Zwoll writes in her gallery’s blog, “Why are we excited about finding glass sculpture in the rarefied halls of Art Basel? Primarily, because the world of the glass sculptor is strangely insular, often isolated from more commonly accepted fine art mediums.” Tate’s residual enthusiasm about his experiences at the shows was contagious; as he declared, “What a great time to be a glass artist!”

Perhaps the biggest news of the weekend was the presence of Bullseye Gallery at Art Miami as the only gallery with a focus on work in the medium of glass invited to attend. According to Art Miami’s publicist, Bullseye did very well there with work by Jessica Loughlin and others, and the Bullseye team verified the show was a success. As Bullseye Gallery spokesperson Nicole Leaper carefully phrased it, “Art Miami was a positive experience for us, and the fair environment was very encouraging. We would love to be invited to return.”

Bullseye’s attendance is noteworthy and encouraging, but note the concern about being invited to return. Why is being a gallery devoted to a single medium an issue? And why weren’t other glass-only galleries invited to attend Art Miami, generally perceived as secondary only to Art Basel within the hierarchy of the Miami shows?. (Note: as has been reported, Barry Friedman Ltd. also exhibited at Art Miami, though brought only limited work in glass.)

Is there a bias against craft-based media at the Miami shows? The evidence indicates not. But why so few galleries specializing in a single craft-based media? Repeated attempts for comment by Nick Korniloff, the director of Art Miami were unsuccessful, but it’s unlikely he would have confirmed such a bias.

Putting potential biases aside, let us assume that in the end quality matters most—and not necessarily quality of technique. Quality can just as significantly reside in a work’s content as in the precision with which it was made. One possible conclusion is that glass, as a medium, is rupturing: “technique-driven glass,” as Tate calls it, and the conceptual or narrative glass that is more aligned with contemporary art trends, are separating into their respective camps of craft and art.

In spite of any rupture, though, there is of course room for notions of both art and craft within glass. If we might see material of glass as a metaphor for the state of glass as a medium, these fragments can still coexist without us trying to fuse them back together. And there may be a new venue for technique-driven glass at a new event planned for a 2010 Miami debut.

The new Salon Art Fair, organized by Wendy Rosen and planned to take place physically adjacent to and during next year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, will be the test of this. On its website it proposes to add “high craft” to the week’s extravaganzas.

Perhaps 2010 can be the year when these efforts to separate are put aside, when additional venues will provide additional opportunities to see work in glass, and from which we can all proceed with a renewed appreciation of the needlessness of defining glass so precisely. As Micaëla Gallery’s Van Zwoll concludes in one of her blog items, “The truth is, when the tired old arguments of its medium are removed, glass, like any sculpture, when expertly used, is a beautifully captivating material.”

Analisa Coats Bacall

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.