By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
Ginny Ruffner creates small brightly colored pieces that look as if they've escaped from a toy store. The three pieces here are from her "Balance Series," in which she playfully chronicles her recovery from a life-threatening event. (Like Chihuly, she was injured in an automobile accident.) Learning to Cat Paddle (1995) features a droll conglomeration of a humanlike cat, a ring of shark fins, an oversize seahorse, a sailboat, and a chunk of coral reef. Coping With the Fountain of Youth (1995) finds a sea-green extraterrestrial surfing on what looks like another piece of coral.
Thomas Patti's ethereal, vaguely futuristic-looking pieces are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Using his own glass-working process, called "blown lamination," he creates a rectangular block comprising layers of fused glass slightly distorted by bubbles of air inserted into the glass while it's still hot and malleable. Because of the ways the layers reflect and distort light, the look of each piece varies subtly depending on your vantage point. (They're especially fascinating from the side.)
One artist, Judith Schaechter, merits the museum's smallest gallery all to herself. It's a slightly darkened space, the better to highlight her four pieces, which are more or less stained-glass panels illuminated from behind. Schaechter, who's only 38 years old, combines medieval techniques, pop-culture subject matter, and a dark sense of humor for such wonderfully lurid pieces as Bad Night With Insomnia (1994) and Respecting the Bag (1992), the latter a female nude with a paper bag on her head surrounded by dozens of pistols jutting into the scene.
For Remnants (1994), Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend takes glass out of the realm of sculpture by mounting the nine panels that make up the piece on the wall. The panels, most of them abstract compositions, include "sculpted and constructed glass," but she also incorporates other media such as graphite and pieces of wood.
Finally, Michael Glancy, who studied with Chihuly and now teaches at the RISD, combines a variety of techniques to come up with his gorgeous, deceptively simple-looking pieces. Sometimes he works with acid to carve patterns into glass; other times he uses sandblasting, or he may apply layers of metal by electroplating them to the glass. He achieves a Zen-like harmony with the stark piece Crystal Obscura, which consists of two parts created independently and later assembled: the base, an irregular slab of industrial plate glass with copper veins that create the illusion of marble; and sitting atop it off-center, a small blown-glass vase with an etched silver surface.
The "American Glass" exhibition, which takes up all but one of the museum's first-floor galleries, is complemented upstairs by "Selections From South Florida Glass Collections." This smaller show consists of two dozen or so pieces culled from private collections and from the Habatat Galleries in Boca Raton, which has what's probably the most extensive inventory of glass art in South Florida.
Four of the artists from the downstairs show reappear upstairs. Two Chihulys greet visitors near the entrance to the show. Empire Yellow Macchia (1994) is an enormous piece with undulating edges that looks like a cross between a bowl and an anemone; it's lit from above in such a way that the light seems to radiate from deep within its streaky yellow-and-green basin. Blanket Series Cylinder (1988) is a more modest piece, a leaning cylinder, its swirling pink surface covered with countless tiny lines.
Much of the material in this sideshow isn't quite up to the standards of the works in the main show. A trio of Dan Dailey pieces, for instance, are as forced and clunky as his downstairs pieces are natural and graceful. And Joel Philip Myers' Red Contiguous Fragment(1986) and CFO White Long (1988) are pretty but little more than glorified vases that haven't completely escaped their functional origins.
Three William Morris pieces, however, display a flair for mixed media not evident in his pieces downstairs. And there are three magnificent works by Jon Kuhns, who embeds shimmering, intricately detailed geometric glass forms inside much larger pieces of clear glass. (I'm surprised the main show doesn't include some of his work; more of it is on view at the Habatat Galleries.)
The museum touts "American Glass" as "probably the largest glass exhibition ever to come to South Florida," and for once such a claim doesn't sound like mere hype. It's a knockout show that reinforces the Art and Culture Center's status as one of South Florida's most adventurous museums.