The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg has added a new work to its permanent collection, one with both spark and sparkle.
Michael Glancy's Stiletto Fusion is a complex glass sculpture, its beauty a cerebral experience rather than the immediate and accessible delight of sculptures such as those by supernova glass artist Dale Chihuly. In the 1970s, Glancy studied under Chihuly at the Rhode Island School of Design, where Glancy himself now teaches. And he has also taught at the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle, which Chihuly co-founded. Glancy may not have Chihuly's populist reach, but he is seriously collected, and his glass art is in major museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Corning Glass Museum. Created with multiple blowing and carving techniques as well a fusion with metal, it's a fine example of the diversity of studio glass.
The patterns in his vessels of glass and metal suggest, at the same time, topographical maps and microscopic cross-sections. Sometimes you feel you're seeing a visualization of the big bang. Unhappy with the way his vessels were displayed, Glancy some years ago began creating bases for them that play off or relate to the vessel's design, another innovative quality.
"I loved his work from the first moment I saw it years ago," said Duncan McClellan, a respected glass artist who lives in St. Petersburg. "I couldn't tell the scale, but I thought it had to be huge. But his work isn't very big. It has such a massiveness."
Stiletto Fusion has become a full-time resident through an acquisition process almost as unusual as the new work. The process culminates at the annual Collectors Choice Dinner, an event that's essentially a high-brow popularity contest.
"Very few people ever actually get to choose something to donate," says Mary Alice McClendon, a longtime donor to the museum who has been active with the Collectors Circle, the group that hosts the dinner.
The decision to accept a new work into a collection is traditionally made by the museum's professionals, the director and curators, for example. Sometimes there is also a small committee of knowledgeable volunteers. Also, museum-quality art is beyond the means of all but the most wealthy, and even if you can afford it, you probably want to hang on to it, at least for a while.
The Collectors Circle was formed in 1995 by members who wanted to help add to the museum's collection. They also sponsor lectures and go on a trip or two annually to see private collections and attend important art fairs. The members pay $500 (an individual museum membership is $60) and most of it goes into a fund reserved for buying art. The museum does not release purchase prices, but the Collectors Circle fund usually has between $75,000 and $150,000 available.
Instead of the typical museum method in which art experts make the final decision, the members vote for their favorite from a field of at least three possibilities. Those finalists are determined by the curator and/or director, in this case, the museum's chief curator, Jennifer Hardin. She used the budget (which was generous but nowhere near enough to score a major work by a big-name artist) and gaps in the collection to find potential acquisitions available from galleries (mostly in New York). She arranged for their loan to the museum and wrote descriptions of them and how they would fit into the overall collection, which now numbers around 15,000. She and museum director Kent Lydecker presented them at the black-tie-optional dinner on April 29 and argued the merits of each. The contenders: Stiletto Fusion; a 1992 abstract landscape painting by Neil Welliver, and a "bundle" of three American modernist paintings by Squire J. Vickers and Carl Holty. Then the members voted.
The majority for the Glancy piece "was pretty overwhelming," said McClendon. "I think people chose it for its sheer beauty."
As often happens after the dinner, though, an anonymous donor stepped forward and purchased one of the less favored (labeling them "losers" would be unfair since Hardin had already anointed them winners for the museum), Holty's abstract Composition (1936).
So now there are two new works.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.