The ever-evolving work of American artist Richard Craig Meitner, distinguished by its wit and poetry, reflects a variety of influences and ideas, ranging from Japanese textiles, Italian painting, and German Expressionist graphics, to science and the natural world. A new survey of his work, Masters of %%Studio Glass%%: Richard Craig Meitner, was on view on the Museum’s West Bridge through October 18, 2009.
The exhibition featured 30 objects dating from 1978 to 2001, including early blown vessels with graphic images made of fired enamels, and later multi-media sculptures. It is the third installment in the Museum’s ongoing series, Masters of %%Studio Glass%%, which was developed to provide a platform for in-depth surveys of artists well-represented in the Museum’s permanent collection.
Meitner explores unusual juxtapositions of forms and communicates his ideas in a distinct visual language. He has said that his aim in making images and objects is to create moments of astonishment and surprise: “magical” moments when the viewer, questioning what he or she is seeing, begins to think in new ways about things and the relationships among them. “Magic,” he says, “is a moment in which something happens that does not fit into your belief system.”
“Through his work, Meitner does not aim to make statements about anything and he is not trying to tell the viewer what he knows,” says Tina Oldknow, curator of modern glass. “Rather, Meitner is trying to communicate what he does not know, and he does so using pictures rather than words. For him, art functions as it ideally should: as a place where questions are asked and not necessarily answered, a place where any and all things may be considered. If you think you understand Meitner’s objects at first glance, you need to look again.”
The glass surfaces of Meitner’s eccentric objects often incorporate assorted materials such as rust, enamel, bronze, tile, paint, and print. For Meitner, glass is beguiling in its ability to assume a variety of physical guises. As a transparent material, it is paradoxical in its quality of being there and not there: it is a solid mass through which other objects may be seen. The qualities of fragility and preciousness attributed to glass also create meaning and context for the artist.
Meitner was born in 1949 in Philadelphia. Inspired by the career of his great-aunt, the famous Austrian physicist Lise Meitner (1878–1968), and other scientists in his family, he began his university studies in science. However, he completed his undergraduate coursework in 1972 with a degree in fine arts from the University of California at Berkeley.
Later that year, he traveled to Amsterdam for postgraduate study at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, one of the few European art academies offering instruction in glass. Thirty-seven years later, Meitner continues to live and work in Amsterdam, where he has maintained an independent studio since 1976. From 1981 to 2000, he was the head of the glass program at the Rietveld Academie with Dutch artist Mieke Groot.
Meitner’s work is represented in 48 museum collections worldwide, including The Corning Museum of Glass, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art (Sapporo, Japan), Musée des Arts Décoratifs du Louvre (Paris), Museo Vetrario (Murano, Italy), and the Museum of Arts and Design (New York).