Tuesday September 7, 2021 | by Lindsay von Hagn

The Toyama International Glass Exhibition is expanding awareness and appreciation of the range of contemporary glass art

The second iteration of the triennial Toyama International Glass Exhibition, a showcase of the latest achievements in the field of glass art from around the world, debuted mid-summer 2021. After a first winnowing of 1,126 entries submitted from a total of 756 international artists, a second narrowing took place by a 12-person judging panel consisting of directors and curators from glass-art institutions and academic programs around the world. The process ended up with 45 finalist works which are all on view at the Toyama Glass Art Museum through October 3, 2021. 

The exhibition was founded, in part, to establish Toyama, already known as Japan’s Glass Art City, as an internationally known center for glass art. Another goal has been to broaden the boundaries of expression in a culture that has long revered its history in the decorative arts, to expand upon the disciplined approach to aesthetic concerns that in some Japanese competitions values tradition over innovation.

Exhibition curator Maho Asada explained that this broadening of expression in glass art has been underway since the first Toyama exhibition in 2018 showcased Æsa Björk's grand-prizewinning work, Shield II, which incorporates sound, scientific research, and video into its process. "In addition to the novelty of the concept as glass, the beauty of the special characteristics such as glass was also evaluated," Asada told the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet in an email exchange.

Nine of the 45 finalist works in this year's exhibition were given awards, and there is little they share in common. "All the judges pointed out this diversification of expressions," explained Asada, who cited the acceptance of glass-based works in video format as well for the 2021 exhibition. To make sure the jury would be able to adequately evaluate this range of media, some changes were made. "We kept three points in mind," explained Asada. "First was to provide as much times as possible for the first-round judgement. The second point was to have a more global group of judges from first-round judging, and appoint a judge whose research are a is contemporary art." 

The outcome is clear in the grand-prizewinning work by Japanese artist Rui Sasaki, whose practice has been shaped by her education and many residencies abroad. She has sought ways to reconnect with her home country and culture since her return. Winning top honors in the Toyama exhibition was a big step for Sasaki to feel she could bring together her glass practice with her native culture.

"This is my first time winning the glass art competition in Japan," Sasaki told the Hot Sheet in an email exchange. "I still feel that I am in a dream even though all the ceremonies were done. This result of the prize is not only one of the milestones in my artist life especially in Japan but also I believe that this will be such a huge game changer  and impact in Japanese glass in the future from now when I saw other winners' and selected artists' results especially such works with sounds, performance, neon and conceptual based work."

For Sasaki, the Toyama exhibition represents a break from most glass-art competitions there: "In Japan, I realized that the dominant aesthetic criteria for the evaluation of Japanese glass is based on KOGEI, or traditional arts and crafts, and so far my work is informed by nontraditional approaches. I recognized that what I would like to pursue as my expression of work did not exist or be accepted as glass aesthetic in Japan. Therefore, again. winning the prize makes me feel comfortable and confident to show my work in glass in Japan."

Sasaki says that this city has a unique appreciation for innovative ways of working with glass. "Toyama has always been open-minded and supportive towards emerging artists in glass like Corning. I would never have grown up and existed as an artist in Japan if I had not had the opportunity to connect with Toyama since I moved back to Japan after RISD."

As the second iteration of the Toyama exhibition, the exhibition organizers made some changes, including in the make-up of the jury. "The first judging was carried by judges who were in Japan," explained Asada. "Works of a wide variety of genres were, however, submitted; they went far beyond the scope of works usually seen in Japan. Thus, this time, we asked people actively engaged in the field of contemporary glass (museum directors, curators, and art critics) to join the three Japanese judges to make up the six-person panel examining the works. As a result, there were discussions of evaluating video art and the viewpoint of visitors from perspectives that the secretariat had not been aware of, and we received valuable advice from a broad range of perspectives."

One of the jurors was Devin Mathis, the executive director of UrbanGlass, which publishes the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet as well as the print publication. "I felt this juried exhibition selected from a truly international range of artist applicants, and that the work selected for recognition reflected a global perspective of what can be done with glass as a medium of art," said Mathis.

Looking ahead to the third Toyama International Glass Exhibition in 2024, Asada is seeking to build a more flexible organizational structure to respond to further changes in expression. "In the future, we will surely find unexpected developments and unpredictable works that combine the techniques and traditions of the past," said Asada. "I think we also continue to watch over their wonderful work through the Toyama International Glass Exhibition and disseminate them to the world."

An awards ceremony was held on Saturday, August 7, 2021 to honor the recipients of this year's top prizes. Below, we present images of all nine of the prize-winning works.

 Rui Sasaki (Japan)

Rui Sasaki, Subtle Intimacy, 2019. H 175, W 400, D 200 cm. photo: ryohei yanagihara. courtesy: toyama international glass exhibition.

Yoshiaki Kojiro (Japan)

Yoshiaki Kojiro, Hatate #12, 2018. H 56, W 61, D 60 cm. courtesy: toyama international glass exhibition.

SILVER PRIZE | Zhenzhenlab (Japan)

Zhenzhenlab, Relight + MUSIC, 2020. H 300, W 300, D 300 cm. courtesy: toyama international glass exhibition.

SILVER PRIZE | Shizue Sato (Japan)

Shizue Sato, Dear my creature, 2020. H 73, W 360, D 90 cm. photo: okamura kichiro. courtesy: toyama international glass art exhibition.

SILVER PRIZE | Anna Mlasowsky (United States)

Anna Mlasowsky, Chorus of One, 2018. Sound performance. H 150, W 30, D 1 cm. Performance: Alethea Alexander. Choreography, Cloak, Editing: Anna Mlasowsky. Camera: Derek Klein. courtesy: toyama international glass exhibition.

SILVER PRIZE | Koichi Matsufuji (Japan)

Koichi Matsufuji, The Beginning of the End of the World, 2020. Blown uranium glass. H 164 x W 166 x D 269 cm. photo: kato norie. courtesy: toyama international glass exhibition.

SILVER PRIZE | Shige Fujishiro (Federal Republic of Germany)

Shige Fujishiro, Müller, 2020. H 46 x W 35 x D 10 cm. photo: edin bajric. courtesy: toyama international glass exhibition.

SPECIAL JUDGES' PRIZE | Karyln Sutherland (United Kingdom)

Karlyn Sutherland, Pilchuck, Autumn 2019 (2), 2020. H 42, W 85 x D 1.8 cm. courtesy: toyama international glass exhibition.

SPECIAL JUDGES' PRIZE | Rina Matsuo (Japan)

Rina Matsuo, C57BL/6, 2019. H 25, W 60, D 60 cm. photo: okamura kichiro. courtesy: toyama international glass exhibition.

As part of the Grand and Gold prize packages, Rui Sasaki's Subtle Intimacy and Yoshiaki Kojiro's Hatate #12 will be donated to the Toyama Glass Art Museum's permanent collection.

Additional programming related to this exhibition includes scheduled talks by exhibition curator, Maho Asada; a supplemental exhibition titled “Collection Exhibition: Towards the Toyama International Glass Exhibition", which highlights Toyama's rich 30-year history of dedication to glass art (on display through Sunday, December 12th); and a Virtual Tour for those who are unable to visit the museum in person. 


“Toyama International Glass Exhibition 2021”
Saturday, July 10 - Sunday, October 3, 2021
(CLOSED: July 21, August 4, August 18, September 8, September 15)
Toyama Glass Art Museum 2,3F Exhibition Room 1-3
5-1 Nishichō, Toyama, 930-0062, Japan
Official Exhibition Website

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.