Social and political commentary in both historical and contemporary glass is quite rare. Paintings and printed materials have been the common %%tools%% for protest. Glass as a medium is often perceived as fragile, transparent and pretty – not strong enough for such narratives. However, some artists have taken advantage of these characteristics, along with the versatility of the material, to create compelling responses to historical events, social and political injustices, and contemporary worldwide concerns. In this tour we’ll look at work from the 20th and 21st centuries.
- ArtworkSocial injustices often go ignored or unrecognized until there is an overwhelming response to a particular incident. “Les Hommes noirs,” designed by Emile Gallé in collaboration with Victor Prouvé, depicts dark, monstrous creatures, rising from the depths of the earth, which illustrate the evils of false accusation and anti-Semitism. Created in response to the intense scandal in French history known as the Dreyfus Affair, the decoration represents a call for justice, for civil rights, and for the defense of the unjustly accused.
- ArtworkVietnam War protests, often meant to be peaceful, sometimes resulted in startling violence. One of the most shocking incidents took place at Kent State University in May 1970. Henry Halem, who was teaching there at the time, witnessed the shooting of four student protesters by the National Guard. Symbolic of blind justice, the masked face refers to the grand jury, presiding in Ravenna, Ohio, which acquitted the National Guardsmen.
- ArtworkIn this panel, the artist uses the metaphor of the window to present himself looking back at his wartime self. The scene records Posner’s experience in alternative service during the Vietnam War. A conscientious objector, he sustained a back injury while working as a dishwasher in a civilian hospital.
- ArtworkIn his wall sculptures made of glass and mixed media, Michael Aschenbrenner (b. 1949) explores the fragility of the human body. The artist served as a medical field technician during the Vietnam War, and his work addresses the physical consequences of war and the trauma of human casualties.
- ArtworkJoyce Scott uses glass beads to address topics such as sexuality, violence, and civil rights. Three Graces Oblivious While Los Angeles Burns was created in the wake of the beating of Rodney King by police officers in Los Angeles, and the citywide rioting that followed their acquittal in 1992.
- ArtworkThe title of this abstract work comes from the name of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery that was shut down by the Chinese government after the communist takeover of Tibet in 1959. Made after the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and central Europe, Czech artist Vladimir Kopecky has created an uncertain structure built on imbalance and has covered most of the glass with opaque paint.
- ArtworkSilvia Levenson was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During the military dictatorship of Gen. Jorge Rafaél Videla from 1976 to 1981, thousands of Argentineans were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. Levenson, who was a political activist, remembers this period of her life as being very intense and frightening. She moved to Italy with her husband and children in 1981.
- ArtworkIn this work, Clifford Rainey addresses the tragedy of terrorism. The title Omagh refers to the Omagh Bombing, which was carried out in August 1998 by a splinter group calling itself the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA). The Omagh attack, in which 29 people were killed and more than 200 were injured, was the worst single act of terrorism experienced in Northern Ireland.
- ArtworkCaroline Prisse is head of the glass program at the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. Much of Prisse’s installation and sculptural work is concerned with the environment, ecological systems, and a changing natural world in which species disappear daily. Elephant is a trophy head that does not celebrate the catch and kill, but brings attention to the danger of extinction.
- ArtworkForest Glass by Katherine Gray references the fragile balance between ecology and glassmaking. Trees—in fact, forests of them—were obliterated over the centuries so that their wood could be used as fuel for glass furnaces. Here Gray reconstructs some of these lost trees out of the material that destroyed them—in effect, recycling the trees with recycled glass. Gray is an accomplished glassblower, but she used only found objects for her sculpture.
- ArtworkBritish artist Luke Jerram approaches his work from a multidisciplinary perspective and uses whatever materials are most appropriate to realize his ideas. The two flameworked and blown glass sculptures, Smallpox Virus and HIV, are from his “Glass Microbiology” series, in which he explores the tension between the beauty of his glass sculptures, the deadly viruses that they represent, and the global impact caused by these diseases.