This show could be called "Beyond Chihuly."
"Global + Local" at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg exhibits 100 examples of studio glass from the mid 20th century, when the movement was born, into recent years. Only five of them — and fairly small ones at that — are by Dale Chihuly. The rest are from a roster that includes most of the other big names in glass who marshal just about any technique known to glass creators.
Chihuly should, of course, be part of this show since he was a seminal figure in studio glass' development and is its most famous practitioner. But you can get a big Chihuly fix across Beach Drive at the Chihuly Collection. At MFA, you will get a sense of vast variety in the medium.
All three galleries in the special exhibitions wing elegantly accommodate their contents. For a show with so much visual stimulation, its overall impression is one of serenity.
The first gallery is a primer on that variety with examples by more than a dozen glass artists. They include studio glass progenitor Harvey Littleton, who mastered cerebral, refined forms, and Chihuly, whose 1987 vessel looks ahead to an illusionist trend in which glass is finished to resemble stone, ceramics, even fiber. Lino Tagliapietra, considered the greatest living glass blower, looks back to centuries-old Venetian glass traditions, using swirls of zanfirico, which are thin rods, also called cane, of filigreed glass that form delicate patterns when shaped, stretched or cut. The range runs from the small and conventional — Paul Stankard's exquisite paperweight with flame-worked flowers — to large and unexpected — Therman Statom's glass and mixed media wall sculpture.
A second gallery features vessels and, again, the techniques are myriad. Deanna Clayton crafts and fuses two bowl shapes using pate de verre, or crushed pieces of glass, to create a rough-textured vessel that resembles an antiquity rescued from an archaeological dig. Dante Marioni uses classical references in a pair of midnight blue and black serving vessels that are elongated and exaggerated in a sleek mannerist style. Massimiliano Schiavon bundles multiple cane and then, unexpectedly, applies them horizontally rather than vertically to an opaque black vessel, carving into the rods to reveal patterns. We could be seeing a piece of intricately woven fabric. One of the most elegant works in the show is Benjamin Moore's Cadmium Red Interior Fold. It's deceptively simple: a small bowl sporting an oversized lip, or rim, swirled with thin black cane. Blowing that rim in such disproportion, basically wider than a dinner plate attached to something the size of a soup bowl, all in one piece, requires great mastery.
The third gallery could be described as a collection of glass sculptures both abstract and figurative. A miniature soda fountain shop by Emily Brock, who specializes in tiny, 3-D genre scenes, is a retro charmer made from cast and lamp-worked glass and filled with immaculately detailed accessories and decor. Though he uses a copy of a film made decades ago by Thomas Edison, Tim Tate's 100 Years of Longing is as far from retro as you get, an edgy and odd installation in which a sphere of glass is a small projection of two men dancing while a third plays the violin. William Morris gets as much play as Chihuly with five sculptures. He has gained fame with his haunting, beautiful animals and objects. They're usually simple forms — a bird, a bone, an animal skull that really look like a bird, bone or animal skull but certainly not glass. In his hands, they become more than a specific thing because he imbues them with symbolic significance.
Important to know is that almost all of the works in the exhibition are on loan from individual collectors who live in the Tampa Bay region. The show originally had 60 pieces, but word of it was passed around among collectors and more offered to participate. It makes for a rich mix. There are a few examples of redundancy, such as having two Chihuly Sea Forms when one would have been enough. That's a quibble, not an important flaw. Repetition works wonderfully in another instance with three sorbet-colored vessels by Sonja Blomdahl (from different collectors) lined up together looking terrific.
When most of the special exhibitions we see celebrate artists from other times and places, this one is a happy exception in which fine glass artists, including Duncan McClellan, Chuck Boux, Susan Gott and Owen Pach, hail from our region and are well represented.
Chief curator Jennifer Hardin has done a masterful job of arranging so many different visual sensibilities. (And, I would suspect, a masterful job of tact in dealing with so many individuals who love their collections.) The show did not need to be this big to be this good. But studio glass doesn't require a deep dig into the brain to appreciate and enjoy it, so its size doesn't demand a long time commitment. Linger, though. And marvel, as I did, at the scope and excellence of a medium only 50 years old.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.