The Italian impact on contemporary glass throughout the world—and especially the United States—is the most recent chapter in the complex history of Venetian-style glass. The Italian Influence in Contemporary Glass, showcased the wide range of influence of Venetian-style glassmaking on today's artists working in glass.
Glass is a technically demanding medium, and Italian glassworking techniques are important %%tools%% with which contemporary artists realize their creative ideas. While some American artists took glassblowing in experimental and innovative directions in the 1960s, most were hampered by their lack of technical knowledge. Because the craft of glassblowing was nearly extinct in America, they looked to Europe, where glass had thrived for centuries. Although Scandinavian and Czech glassmaking has been influential, the Venetians have played the most significant role in the development of contemporary glass.
The first American studio glass artist to travel to Venice was Dale Chihuly. In 1968, he wrote letters to dozens of glasshouses on Murano, requesting permission to observe their glassblowers. He received only one reply—from Ludovico Diaz de Santillana, the director of the Venini Glassworks.
Chihuly was followed at Venini by artists Richard Marquis, Benjamin Moore, and Marvin Lipofsky, among others. Soon, Muranese glass masters were arriving in the United States to teach, giving new direction to the careers of many young American artists.
Characteristics of the Venetian style include the use of soda-lime glass, the preference for blown, classically proportioned forms and bright colors, and a flawless technique that may or may not involve complex internal or applied decoration. Less tangible is the Venetian preference for glass that appears effortlessly elegant, cheerful, and spontaneous. The best artists today do not copy Italian glass. Instead, they reinterpret and extend its distinctive approach to form and decoration.
The Italian Influence in Contemporary Glass was a companion piece to the Museum’s major 2004 summer exhibition, Beyond Venice: Glass in Venetian Style, 1500-1750, which traces the dissemination of Venetian glassblowing techniques throughout Renaissance Europe.