Featured Objects from Masters of Studio Glass: Richard Craig Meitner

Featured exhibition objects from Masters of %%Studio Glass%%: Richard Craig Meitner.

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    According to Meitner, these bottles are the first objects that successfully expressed some of his ideas about the mystery and magic of glass.
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    On this vessel, the viewer is meant to see the image through the glass, which is partly transparent and partly translucent. Sometimes, Meitner fumed the vessels with tin chloride during the blowing process, which produced a subtle iridescence. The iridescence provided another layer of visual “interference” between the viewer and the glass.
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    If you think you understand Meitner’s objects at first glance, you need to look again.

    Meitner says, “What I am trying to express in my work has more to do with ambiguity than it does with sense.” Meitner’s art involves multiple associations. Although the meaning of his objects is constantly shifting, there is a focused thought process that runs like a thread throughout his work. As the artist Michael Rogers has observed, “The consistency of Richard’s work over time and his persistence of thought shows an artist in command of change and who, in fact, has made it a paradoxical, unifying factor in his art.”

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    This is a design, produced in a limited series of several hundred, that Meitner made for the Royal Leerdam Crystal Factory. It can be put together in several ways (see below), and it is meant to be played with. Meitner also designed the packaging for this sold-out series, which had a detail of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, showing the hand of God touching the hand of Adam. The vessel, which changes color in different lighting, is blown of glass tinted with neodymium, a rare-earth metal.
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    This group of multimedia sculptures was commissioned for the 1998 “Venezia Aperto Vetro” exhibition in Venice, Italy. The title is taken from the biblical phrase “for everything there is a season,” which in Italian is translated “ogni cosa ha la sua stagione.” Meitner titled the individual sculptures by breaking up the Italian words differently: hence, ognico, sahala, suasta, gione.

    The title of this suite of sculptures was chosen because the theme of the 1998 “Aperto Vetro” was “the four seasons,” a traditional subject in graphics and decorative arts and evocative of the music of the Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Although the respective coloring of the four works was intended to evoke each of the four seasons, the subject meant little to Meitner, who, in his customary manner, endowed the pieces with their own obscure meanings.

    The large blown and flameworked elements of the sculptures were made by Edwin Dieperink, the found furnace-worked flower was made by Fabio Fornasier, and the enameled and decal-decorated glass tiles were made by Meitner. The small flameworked objects in the gold bowl are tourist souvenirs that Meitner purchased in Venice.

    Ognico, the white dog-faced figure, evokes winter; Sahala, the seated figure wearing a pointed hat and offering a tray of Venetian sweets, implies spring; Suasta, the bird on a branch beneath a goblet, suggests summer; and Gione, the headless figure with claw feet, covered in rust, refers to fall.

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    The chemical element meitnerium (Mt) was named in honor of Meitner’s great-aunt, the physicist Lise Meitner. Only small amounts of the element have ever been produced—in a linear accelerator. It is said that if meitnerium were stable, it might look metallic and silvery white or gray in color. This piece is one of Meitner’s interpretations of what meitnerium might look like. He places a grayish, pearly white mineral, apophyllite (substituting for meitnerium) on top of a glass stand, and he displays it, reliquary-like, inside a Victorian-style dome. Because of the mineral’s natural pyramidal structure, the apophyllite crystal creates rainbows much like a glass prism, splitting daylight into colored wavelengths.
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    In addition to making objects, Meitner experimented in the 1980s with creating abstract and graphic images and patterns on the surfaces of his glass vessels. His enameled designs emphasize the material’s transparency.
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    The enameled “x” on this vessel was not applied after the glass was cooled. Instead, it was applied hot, while the piece was still on the blowpipe. The brownish areas were not enameled, but reduced with a hot flame during blowing to give the impression of “burnt” glass. This piece addresses some of the paradoxes of glass: burning and viscous while hot, it appears hard and shiny when cold. How can an artist retain the qualities of the material when it is hot and when it is cold? Meitner also wanted to create a feeling of age and natural decay in a material that, in contrast to other materials, exhibits almost no natural decay if properly preserved.
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    The elements spell a word, equate, which Meitner intends the viewer to read. “I am fascinated by the pre-verbal experience,” Meitner says. “In my work, I search for combinations of materials, forms, colors, and especially weights, whose individual meanings I only partly understand. These are symbols in a language no one speaks but we all understand. Combinations of these, if I am very lucky, reveal the existence of ‘truths,’ which are, for me, much stronger and more timeless than any word we might use to define them.”
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    In 1997, Meitner mounted an exhibition titled “Cold Fusion” for the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden. The exhibition was dedicated to his great-aunt, Lise Meitner, and it was an attempt to link Meitner’s two great interests: art and science. The Museum Boerhaave is a science museum with an eccentric collection of scientific devices, specimens, measuring instruments, and surgical tools.

    The show at the Museum Boerhaave was a perfect opportunity for Meitner to try something new, and something that would involve science. He began to work in borosilicate glass with the help of Edwin Dieperink, a scientific glassmaker. Borosilicate glass (called Pyrex in the United States) is a much harder substance than the soft, soda-lime glass customarily used by artists. Meitner’s objects look like those that might be found in the Museum Boerhaave’s collections, and, like many antique instruments, their function is unclear or perhaps obsolete.

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    Meitner’s desire to change the ways in which things are perceived as well as his ongoing pursuit of beauty, links him with the French Surrealists, who also worked in the realm of the marvelous (la merveille), where beauty was convulsive, a force of power and meaning. Meitner’s objects are related to the Surrealists’ “object-poems,” universes unto themselves, where the physics of poetry reigns.
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    Meitner’s forms are deliberate, seemingly familiar, and startling. As former Corning Museum of Glass curator Susanne Frantz has observed, Meitner’s objects “demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the history of science, art, and design. They are beautiful in baffling ways that the viewer simply must accept or reject, without guidelines.”
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    “Magic,” Meitner says, “is a moment in which something happens that does not fit into your belief system.”
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    The drawing is a self-portrait. Meitner uses contrast as a method of investigation in his work. He relies on his intuition, but because he comes from a family of scientists, logical analysis is just as natural for him. In a symbolic language, which is the language of art, meanings are not static but continually change.
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    Meitner’s objects investigate the many ways in which glass can be manipulated: it can be precisely or hazily defined, it can be combined with other materials such as wood and metal, it can be abstract or figurative, and it can exploit color or the absence of color. The enameled designs emphasize the transparency of the glass, or the lack of it. Other manipulations of the material include Meitner’s attempts to pull and stretch the glass.
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    In his objects patinated with metallic finishes, Meitner creates a visual tension, contrasting the light, airy, and amorphous character of glass with the light-absorbing denseness and heaviness of metal. Both metal and glass can be precious, and they can shine and sparkle, but they are profoundly different in character. This is one of a series of pieces that Meitner made while he was an artist in residence at Sars-Poteries. Although animals are clearly symbolic, Meitner does not give them individual meanings. Rather, they represent changing aspects of the artist’s psyche.
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    Meitner says: “My position is that art is a language. If it has something to relate that is worth knowing, one does not . . . go about doing that by assuming that it first needs to be translated into another language, the verbal language of art history. That is like assuming that more clarity will result when you translate poetry into mathematics—not a wise course to take, in my opinion.”
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    Meitner typed a text onto the rolled-up canvas in this vessel, which he then painted and partly burned. The canvas was then bound to the glass with resin. This vessel is about time: Meitner made it with the idea that it would disappear into a private collection, but he hoped that he might eventually come into contact with the vessel, and the forgotten text, once again. Meitner eventually did see this vessel, nearly 30 years later, in this exhibition at the Museum.
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