All About Glass

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Master of Studio Glass: František Vízner

All About Glass

In 1979, the Museum’s landmark exhibition, New Glass: A Worldwide Survey, introduced to the American public the work of a Czechoslovak glassmaker, František Vízner. Nearly 30 years later, the Museum presented Vizner once again at Corning as a studio glass master.

Masters of Studio Glass: František Vízner, on view November 1, 2008, through March 22, 2009, presented a range of the artist’s work held in the Museum’s permanent collection, including his distinctive cast and cut studio vessels as well as his earlier designs for commercially produced blown glass. The 40 objects in the exhibition, dating from 1962 to 2003, spanned more than 40 years of his career.

Vízner began his training at the Specialized School of Glassmaking in Železný Brod, Czechoslovakia (1953 –1956,) and then studied at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague (1956 – 1962). The first part of his career was spent in glass factories. While working as a professional designer for the Sklo Union Glassworks, near Teplice (1962– 1967) and at the Centre for Arts and Crafts in Škrdlovice (1967 – 1975), Vízner tailored his approach to the material to take advantage of the specialized techniques practiced at the glassworks. The Škrdlovice Glassworks, for example, was known for its innovative hot-working processes.

His blown glass designs for industry often utilized strong color contrasts and an unusual manipulation of surface and interior textures.

In some cases, his unapproved designs were produced without his supervision. It was not until he left the Czechoslovak glass industry in 1975 to pursue a career as a studio artist that he gained more control of the artistic process; full control of his career did not come until after the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Smoked Bowl

The 1979 New Glass exhibition, in which Vízner’s work was introduced in America, was organized by the Museum’s then president and director, Thomas S. Buechner, project director Antony E. Snow, and 20th-century glass assistant curator William Warmus. Four invited jurors selected the exhibition pieces, which included one of Vízner’s characteristic bowl forms along with the works of 195 other international artists. Vízner’s piece, Smoked Bowl (78.3.59), was later acquired by the Museum, and was on view in the Masters of Studio Glass exhibition.

In a statement written in 2006, which was presented at a SOFA New York panel discussion on the early days of studio glass, Vízner spoke about the influence of this exhibition on his work: “My involvement within and the influence of the American art glass movement on my own artistic work has been profound,” he says. “The New Glass exhibition at The Corning Museum of Glass in 1979 was the first international presentation of my artistic approach—the development and conception of the modern glass vessel. The warm welcome and interest that I then received from the American art critics and museum curators...had a special significance to me during the repressive conditions of Communist Czechoslovakia.” 

Under postwar Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, artists working in glass had one important advantage: they were afforded greater freedom to explore abstraction than those working in other media. Abstraction was considered to be less threatening in glass, and other decorative arts, than in painting or sculpture. Vízner’s distinctive investigations into abstraction, through the form of the vessel, remain unique in the world of international studio glass.

Vízner’s artistic intent is best expressed in his minimal and luminous personal studio works that occupy the shifting boundary between function and non-function. While the objects he creates are based on the shapes of functional bowls, plates, and vases, we best understand their pure and simple volumes as non-functional, sculptural forms. The reduced forms of his vessels, with their velvety, acid-etched and sandblasted surfaces, are characterized by crisp, articulated lines and deep, jewel-toned colors.

Until 1980, much of Vízner’s color choices were limited to the materials available from the glass factories. He used colored slabs from Škrdlovice glassworks, which were mostly blues, greens, and smoky tints. His process involves making a drawing, selecting a raw block of solid glass, and then spending hours shaping the glass by cutting, drilling, etching, and other cold-working techniques. He never works hot. 

Published on October 16, 2011