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CLARK ART INSTITUTE PRESENTS FRAGILE BEAUTY: 
TREASURES FROM THE CORNING MUSEUM OF GLASS OPENING JULY 4, 2024

Exhibition features glass objects spanning from ancient glass to contemporary creations


(Williamstown, Massachusetts)—For thousands of years, glassmakers have combined sand, chemicals, minerals, heat, and air to create useful and decorative objects. Drawn from the vast collection of the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, Fragile Beauty: Treasures from the Corning Museum of Glass demonstrates how makers from across time and around the globe have taken inspiration from the natural world to create dazzling works of art. The objects in the exhibition range in date from antiquity to the present and show a remarkable breadth of color, technique, form, design, and function. The exhibition is on view in the Clark Center’s Michael Conforti Pavilion from July 4 through October 27, 2024.

"We often speak of the importance of appreciating art in nature,” said Olivier Meslay, Hardymon Director of the Clark. “The influence and inspiration of nature is at the forefront of this exhibition, presenting exquisite glass objects that represent the finest craftsmanship in the world. We cannot wait to see these magnificent works of art displayed in the Michael Conforti Pavilion where they are sure to shimmer and sparkle. We are deeply indebted to the Corning Museum of Glass for generously loaning these beautiful glass pieces to us for this exhibition.”

Highlights of the selection include glass from the legendary Venetian island of Murano; enameled glass from early modern Europe and India; Art Nouveau glass by artists including Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848–1933), René Lalique (French, 1860–1945), and Steuben Glass Works (Corning, New York, 1903–present); and contemporary works. Some of these luxurious objects were made for practical use, such as drinking glasses, vases, and pitchers. Others are purely decorative, from a life-size lemon to a giant flower. Together they suggest the range of creative expression glass artists have achieved.

“I am in awe of the technical skill and boundless creativity of the glass artists who made the objects on view in this exhibition – some recently, some many centuries ago,” said Kathleen Morris, Sylvia and Leonard Marx Director of Collections and Exhibitions and curator of decorative arts. “It has been a true pleasure to mine the riches of the Corning Museum of Glass in order to bring this selection together, celebrating the beauty and variety of an ancient and universal art form.”

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

Glass manufacturing began in Mesopotamia at least 3,600 years ago and slowly spread across cultures. In the ancient Roman Republic and Roman Empire, glass was an important medium for luxury goods, including highly refined tableware as well as decorative elements. The earliest work on view in the exhibition dates between 99 BCE and 25 CE, showing a fish design embedded in plaster, indicating it was likely part of wall decoration. 

Other highlights of the exhibition include a life-size decorative lemon made on the Venetian island of Murano around 1700. Beginning in the thirteenth century, glass factories in Venice were concentrated on the island of Murano to contain the danger of fire, which also enabled factories to keep a close guard on their technical innovations. The products made on Murano were famous for their high quality and sought out as luxury items throughout Europe. The lemon demonstrates the unknown glass artist’s ability to mimic the color of the fruit as well as the texture of its skin. 

Two vases manufactured by the famed Tiffany Glass Company, which opened in 1885 and later became known as Tiffany Studios, are on view in the exhibition. Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848–1933) and his staff experimented with color, form, and technique, creating a line of inventive glassware he called “Favrile.” Tiffany loved the iridescent surface of some excavated ancient Syrian and Roman glass, an effect caused by chemical reactions between the glass and the soil in which they had been buried. He developed techniques to replicate the effect, creating surfaces that appear to glow and shift color with the light. A Favrile vase in the exhibition made between 1914-15 features a shimmering iridescent blue surface with leaf-and-vine decoration. Tiffany glass was wildly popular when it was produced and inspired many competitors who tried to emulate its distinctive look.

The Quezal Art Glass Company, based in Brooklyn, New York, derived its name from the bright plumage of the Central American quetzal bird; unsurprisingly, much of the glass they produced features striking colors and patterns. The founders of the company had worked as glass blowers for Louis Comfort Tiffany and sought to capture for themselves part of the enormous market for Tiffany-style glass.  A Jack-in-the-pulpit vase, (1904–1915) from Quezal is included in the exhibition and features elaborate decoration, with a spectacularly striated back, indicating it was meant to be seen from multiple angles. 

A glass scientist, designer, and maker in England, Frederick Carder (American, b. United Kingdom, 1863–1963) immigrated to the United States in 1903 to cofound the Steuben Glass Works in Corning, New York. At Steuben, Carder developed many new colors and techniques, including “Aurene” glass in 1904. Following on the great popularity of the iridescent glass produced by Tiffany Studios, Carder worked to create new and distinctive iridescent looks. Aurene glass was made by spraying the glass with stannous chloride or lead chloride and reheating it under controlled atmospheric conditions, exemplified by a second brilliantly colored Jack-in-the-pulpit vase (1911) in the exhibition.

One of the most noted of French glass artists was Rene Lalique (1860–1945). Two of Lalique’s Perruches (Parakeets) Vases are on view in the exhibition. Utilizing the same mold, the vases have different visual effects due to the variation in the color of glass and the surface treatment—an amber one features a distinct frosted finish in the lower areas while the higher relief is polished; a blue version has a more uniform translucent surface. Lalique was an innovator in developing new manufacturing techniques that resulted in visual variety with an economy of production.

The exacting technique of cameo glass, which enjoyed a brief but intense period of popularity in the last decades of the nineteenth century, is well represented in the exhibition. One extraordinary example, an exquisite gourd-shaped vase (1888), was cameo-cut, enameled, and gilded in a collaboration between two expert glass artists, Fridolin Kretschman (Bohemian, c. 1850–1898) and Jules Barbe (French, active 1878–99), working for the Thomas Webb and Sons manufactory (Amblecote, Stourbridge, England, founded 1837). Webb and Sons was known for extremely refined cameo glass, a specialty of glassmakers in the Stourbridge area of England in the late nineteenth century. Cameo glass is produced by etching or carving through fused layers of differently colored glass to produce designs, usually with white opaque glass motifs on a darker background. In the case of the gourd-shaped vase, the relief decoration of smaller gourds, vines, leaves, and dragonflies has been painted with enamel colors to mimic nature, and the red glass body of the vase is dotted with gilding to suggest the texture of a gourd’s skin.

The exhibition also includes some exceptional examples of glass created by Asian artists. The underside of the broad rim of a nineteenth-century Chinese deep flaring bowl on a wooden stand is expertly carved with lotus blossoms, lily pads, birds, and insects. Seen through the transparent amethyst glass, these elements evoke the bank of a pond. The inside bottom of the bowl is carved with two carp, and the smooth interior rim has delicate meandering striations resembling the veins of a leaf. The unknown artist created gradations of color by varying the depth of the carving. The result is a mesmerizing glass masterpiece. 

Created by celebrated Japanese glass artist Kyohei Fujita (1921–2004), the luminous glass box’s title Taketori Tale (Box) (2000) refers to an ancient Japanese folk tale about a bamboo cutter named Taketori who discovers a celestial infant inside a bamboo stalk and adopts her as his daughter. As an adult, her beauty attracts many suitors, including the Emperor. Ultimately, she returns to her true home on the moon, leaving the Emperor bereft. He orders a love letter to be burned on the highest mountain in hopes of communicating with her. The colors of this box were inspired by the tale: green for bamboo, gold for the moon, and silver for the smoke from the burned letter. 

Loretta Hui-Shan Yang (Taiwanese, b. 1952) is an actress and glass artist working in Taiwan. In a technical tour-de-force, Yang designed the intricate glass peony, titled The Proof of Awareness (2006), to be cast in one piece. In Yang’s words, the peony “inspires reflection on the Buddhist teachings of impermanence, as the blossom is most vibrant just before the flower begins to fade.” Esteemed in Chinese and Taiwanese culture as an especially exquisite flower, the peony holds many symbolic associations, including to nobility, wealth, honor, love, and peace.

Several works by contemporary American glass artists are also included in the exhibition. Josh Simpson (American, b. 1949) has been creating imaginary worlds from glass for many years, such as Megaworld (1991), which suggests a planet seen from a great distance. The elements inside the clear globe incude slices of murrine cane glass, powdered glass, and metal foils, evoking colors and forms that suggest bodies of water or land, sea creatures, forests, clouds, and other natural and imaginary forms. 

During the course of the exhibition, the Corning Museum of Glass will send its Mobile Hot Shop to Williamstown for a week-long residency at the Clark. The artisans who work in the portable glass-blowing studio will provide free demonstrations on the Clark’s campus throughout the day between August 5―11. 

On Wednesday evenings from July 10 through September 25, the Clark offers free admission to see the Fragile Beauty exhibition from 5 to 9 pm. 

Fragile Beauty: Treasures from the Corning Museum of Glass is organized by the Clark Art Institute and curated by Kathleen Morris, Sylvia and Leonard Marx Director of Collections and Exhibitions and curator of decorative arts.

Generous support for this exhibition is provided by Robert D. Kraus, Doris Fischer Malesardi, the S & L Marx Foundation, and Carol and Richard Seltzer.


RELATED EVENTS

Exhibition Opening
Thursday, July 4, 10 am–5 pm

Celebrate Independence Day at the Clark with free admission all day and be among the first to see Fragile Beauty: Treasures from the Corning Museum of Glass

Opening Lecture: Fragile Beauty: Treasures from the Corning Museum of Glass
Saturday, July 20, 11 am
Auditorium, Manton Research Center

Kathleen Morris, Sylvia and Leonard Marx Director of Collections and Exhibitions and curator of decorative arts, introduces Fragile Beauty. The exhibition’s twenty-eight objects and pairs, spanning from ancient glass to contemporary creations, reveal an intricate blend of craftsmanship and inspiration drawn from nature.  

Free. Accessible seats available in the Clark’s auditorium; for information, call 413 458 0524. 

Guided by Glass: Weekly Drop-In Art-Making
Thursdays, July 11, 18, & 25 and August 1, 8, 15, 22, & 29, 1–4 pm
Fernández Terrace, Clark Center

In celebration of Fragile Beauty, explore the unique characteristics of glass and learn about light, color, and transparency. Drop in anytime between 1–4 pm to decorate a fun glass object to take home, and contribute to a collaborative mural led by emerging local artists.

Free. All materials provided. In case of severe weather, meet in the Museum Pavilion. Family programs are generously supported by Allen & Company.

Public Programs
A full slate of public programs, including curatorial lectures, dance performances, artist conversations, artmaking workshops, and gallery tours is planned throughout the run of the exhibition; details are available at clarkart.edu/events.
  

ABOUT THE CLARK
The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, consisting of some 300,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

The Clark, which has a three-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide, is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Its 140-acre campus includes miles of hiking and walking trails through woodlands and meadows, providing an exceptional experience of art in nature. Galleries are open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday, from September through June, and daily in July and August. Open 10 am–9 pm on Wednesdays from June 19 through September 25, with free admission from 5–9 pm. Admission is free January through March and is $20 from April through December; admission is free year-round for Clark members, all visitors age 21 and under, and students with a valid student ID. Free admission is also available through several programs, including First Sundays Free; a local library pass program; and the EBT Card to Culture. For information on these programs and more, visit clarkart.edu or call 413 458 2303.

ABOUT THE CORNING MUSEUM OF GLASS
The Corning Museum of Glass is the foremost authority on the art, history, and science of glass. It is home to the world’s most important collection of glass, including the finest examples of glassmaking spanning 3,500 years. The campus in Corning includes a year-round glassmaking school—The Studio—and the Rakow Research Library, with the world’s preeminent collection of materials on the art and history of glass. Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York State, the museum is open daily, year-round. Children and teens, 17 and under, receive free admission. For more information, visit cmog.org. 

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