Design in Contemporary Glass

A collection of objects selected by Tina Oldknow, curator of modern glass, presents glass design from the Museum’s permanent collection in association with the 2012 exhibition, Making Ideas: Experiments in Design at GlassLab. Not all of the objects in this collection may be currently on view at the Museum.

Contemporary Design

Drinking glasses on view include the work of emerging and established designers, as well as artists coming to design from other disciplines, such as Sara Musselman, Studio Polka (Marie Rahm and Monica Singer), Maria Grazia Rosin, Sol LeWitt, Jenny Holzer, Philippe Starck, and Bennett Bean.  These glasses reflect recent trends in contemporary design, such as the interest in the field shown by painters and sculptors, and the increasing use of production processes that extend beyond the machine to the handmade.

Table wares by Tord Boontje, Emma Woffenden, and Hella Jongerius reflect other trends in contemporary design, such as the interest in sustainable, environmentally responsible products that support local communities.  Objects by designers Ettore Sottsass and Gaetano Pesce, and artist Katherine Gray, explore the shifting boundaries between design, craft, and art.

Steuben Glass, which was founded in Corning, New York, in 1903, closed its doors in 2011.  Steuben’s products are characterized by their high-quality material, expert craftsmanship, and distinctive designs.  In 1939, the company commissioned designs for engraved decoration from painters and sculptors for its “Twenty-Seven Contemporary Artists” series, which enhanced its luxury product line.  This practice continued, in the 2000s, with the invitation of well-known artists and designers, such as Kiki Smith and Ted Muehling, and emerging artists, such as Beth Lipman, to create products for Steuben.

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    The wish glasses were designed to be used for a single special toast, and then broken apart at the top of the joined stems, “sealing” the wish.

    Over the past decade, changes in the market and the economy have forced many large glassworks to redirect their focus, to reinvent their products, or to close. For high-end glass design, a new direction in production and marketing is beginning to emerge. Designers, such as Sara Musselman, are looking at alternative sources for manufacturing. For glass, these sources include artist-glassblowers, whose studios are equipped to handle limited-edition production.

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    Approximately 200 examples of glass by J. & L. Lobmeyr are found in the Museum’s collection. They range from 19th-century Persian- and Islamic-inspired vessels and lighting to early 20th-century classic modern table ware by Josef Hoffmann and Oswald Haerdtl. Founded in 1822, this venerable Viennese glass company has recently begun to commission designs from younger design firms, such as Polka.

    Here, Marie Rahm and Monica Singer have taken one of the most ordinary and humble drinking glasses—the beer glass—and they have turned it into a meticulously crafted, limited-edition luxury object.

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    These glasses are engraved with patterns taken from drawings by the famous minimalist sculptor Sol LeWitt.
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    In the course of her career, Maria Grazia Rosin has pursued painting and sculpture in addition to applied arts and design. She is best known for her glass lighting and sculptures that reflect her interest in marine biology and science fiction.
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    The glasses are enameled with some of the “truisms” for which the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer has become famous. They read: “Protect Me from What I Want,” “You Are Guileless in Your Dreams,” “The Most Profound Things Are Inexpressible,” and “Boredom Makes Me Do Crazy Things.” The type of glassware chosen—the classic old-fashioned whisky glass—is a pun on the name of the retailer.
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    The “spot” painting is immediately recognizable as the work of art superstar Damien Hirst. Since 1985, the Beck’s brewing company has invited well-known and emerging contemporary artists to design labels for limited editions of bottled beer and giveaway beer glasses.

    Such celebrity artist labels reflect recent trends in corporate branding that take advantage of the symbiotic relationship between contemporary art and popular culture.

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    The enameled hands spell “Drink Me” in British Sign Language. Douglas Gordon is internationally known for his photographs and videos.
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    Bennett Bean is a well-known ceramist who, in recent years, has shifted from making unique, complex objects to exploring product design. This ceramic and glass martini glass is inscribed “This Body Will Become a Corpse / Drink Up” (visible when you lift the glass to your lips).
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    This collection is part of Artecnica’s Design with Conscience Project, which is a program to manufacture products in accordance with humanitarian and environmentally friendly principles. Since 2002, Artecnica has invited well-known international designers, such as Hella Jongerius, to work with artisans in need around the world, assisting communities by invigorating local commerce.

    Jongerius enjoys combining materials, and she has made several designs that unite glass and ceramic. For the “Beads and Pieces” vessels, which are handmade by indigenous Peruvian men and women, she incorporated traditional Shipibo patterns into her design for the woven beadwork.

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    Gaetano Pesce is an architect, artist, and designer who has undertaken diverse commissions in architecture, urban planning, interior and exhibition design, industrial design, and publishing. He has designed objects ranging from flower vases to furniture in a variety of materials, and he is known for his asymmetrical forms and unrestrained use of color.

    This vessel, which was difficult to make without breaking, is intentionally primitive-looking. Pesce leaves in place the tubelike sprues, which are used in the casting process, to show how the vessel is constructed. By leaving the rim uneven and the surface seemingly rough, he subverts the meticulous finishing processes that are characteristic of well-crafted objects.

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    This collection is part of Artecnica’s Design with Conscience Project, which is a program to manufacture products in accordance with humanitarian and environmentally friendly principles.

    The TranSglass collection was launched in 2005. With the help of the nonprofit organization Aid to Artisans, Artecnica collaborated with Guatemalan craftsmen to produce Emma Woffenden and Tord Boontje’s designs for recycled glass. Taking the humble empty wine bottle as their point of departure, Woffenden and Boontje have devised a range of creative table wares using basic cold-working techniques.

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    The internationally recognized designer Philippe Starck used the traditional Baccarat “Harcourt” goblet in this poetic interpretation of table ware. The boxed set consists of six lead glass goblets, which Starck had made in opaque black glass. Five of the goblets have minor imperfections, and one, which is posed on red silk, is perfect (un parfait).

    The quest for the perfect goblet is one that resonates with glassmakers, and Starck’s use of black glass, with its obsidian-like gleam, negates the qualities of purity and transparency that are usually associated with Baccarat crystal. The set is inscribed with a quotation from the French visionary poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889–1963): “à l’impossible je suis tenu” (I am obliged to do the impossible).

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    One of Italy’s most celebrated designers, Ettore Sottsass began his work with glass in 1948 and continued into the late 1990s. He created designs for the Murano companies SALIR, Vistosi, and Venini, and he is especially well known for the series he produced in the early 1980s for Toso Vetri d’Arte.

    Sottsass was one of the leading members of Memphis, the influential group of Italian architects and designers who sought to subvert the cool idealism of 1970s Italian design with provocative, colorful, and ironic objects that challenged notions of good design.

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    Here, Katherine Gray takes a functional object, the cake plate, and makes it into an improbable table ware with no function at all except to evoke wonder and desire. The repeating domes heighten the childlike awe that the cake plate, as the special bearer of enshrined beautiful desserts, inspires.
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    Although American studio artists in the 1950s thought of themselves as designer-craftsmen, many influential studio glass artists in the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s attempted to shed their relationship to craft by looking to contemporary art rather than design. With an approach to aesthetic, process, and intent that was vastly different from that of the design world (with the exception, maybe, of Memphis), studio glass had very little relationship to design until recently.

    Katherine Gray is interested in design, and much of her work uses traditional functional objects as a point of departure. She made these nesting bowls, which are inspired by the Wonder Bread wrappers of her childhood, as a design that could be produced by others.

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    Beth Lipman is a studio glass artist who has moved into sculpture, installation work, and photography. This collection for Steuben is inspired by Lipman’s interest in 17th-century Dutch still-life painting, in which the presentation of beautifully composed game, fish, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables is symbolic of the passing of time, mortality, and the transience of earthly achievements.

    The still life is meant to be displayed along the center of the dining table. It includes a pineapple, melon, peach and apple halves, a date and figs, acorns, leaves, a lemon, lemon half, and lemon slice, a pomegranate, a papya half, a lotus seed pod, and a poppy capsule.