A trend of social commentary has emerged among the latest generation of glass artists, a conceptual development evident in “Fired Up: Glass Today,” an exhibition curated by Brandy Culp, Richard Koopman Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. There are over 100 artworks by 57 artists in the exhibit. Included are works by luminaries of contemporary glass such as Dale Chihuly, Lino Tagliapietra and others, that foundationally frame perspectives by a new generation of glass artists combining consciousness raising content with aesthetics and technical skill.
I spoke recently with Aaron Schey, co-owner of Habatat Detroit Fine Art, which represents a number of artists in “Fired Up: Glass Today” (including UK artist Hannah Gibson whom I met at the exhibition’s press opening). Schey and I discussed the current of activism as a phenomenon amongyoung artists, that he is calling the “New Glass Movement.” He noted that these artists want a social mission imbedded into their contracts so that a percentage of sales goes directly to their causes, typically up to 25% before the gallery/artist split, which Habatat accommodates. This philanthropic paradigm isn’t new, but its prevalence signals a greater shift among artists toward leveraging their art commerce to effect goals of social change.
When I met Gibson at the Wadsworth, she explained that she had used specific types of recycled glass to create her figures in the show. Gibson’s work blends environmental intervention with social messaging. As an artist/activist she is committed to reclamation and wants society to follow suit. Making new glass from old is hardly a new practice, but unique to Gibson is her astute conceptual reach into the recent history of our culture to reclaim items that society has discarded en masse.
There is poignancy to her selection of source materials that have precise narrative impact. ”A Tangible Hope” is her LEGO-inspired figure made from melted down glass vials from used Covid-19 vaccines. Her sculpture “Without Pixels Behind” was created by melting down Bang & Olufsen glass television screens. She made “Sweet Nothings” from empty insulin vials and “Time Waits for No Man” from recycled glass and up-cycled watch parts. Gibson’s sculptures mingle human identity and consumer culture. She riffs on LEGO’s branding of whimsical allure and playfulness (appropriating the accessibility of toys) to bring attention to her socially and politically charged environmental messaging.