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  1. Visual Arts

'Innovation, concept and artistic talent merge in 'Pivot' at Imagine Museum

Photo by Kimberly White Mike Soroka and Jeremy Sinkus’ collaborative work “CLEO” is a glass sculpture that uses artificial intelligence to react to viewers. It’s part of the “Pivot” exhibition at the Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg.
Published Aug. 1

ST. PETERSBURG — In these dog days of summer, one of the best air-conditioned things to do is to get a culture fix at a gallery or museum. While artistic tastes range, I posit that Imagine Museum's comprehensive collection of studio glass art will appeal to almost anyone. And its new exhibition, "Pivot," showcases the latest of what's happening in contemporary glass.

The museum opened in January 2018 with an impeccably curated collection that traces the studio glass movement. The genre was born in 1960s America, when artists Harvey Littleton and Dominick Libino manipulated a pottery kiln to become a furnace. This meant that artists could now work at home studios, rather than only in factories. This opened the door for the invention of multiple styles and techniques, which are featured in gallery after gallery in the museum.

Imagine Museum continues to add to its collection. In one of the first-floor galleries is Anthony James' mind-boggling Icosahedron, a sculpture made of glass, titanium lights and a maze of mirrors. There is a sublime exhibit, "Karen LaMonte: Floating World," that pairs the artist's life-sized, cast glass, bronze and ceramic kimonos with stunning real ones from museum benefactor Trish Duggan's personal collection. Pieces from international artists are also now included.

For "Pivot," the museum put out its very first call to artists. The request was specific, asking artists for pieces that represented a shift in their work. The museum got an overwhelming response from many well-known artists from across the globe, and leaders were able to curate a fantastic exhibition from the entries.

Mike Soroka and Jeremy Sinkus' collaborative work, CLEO, is the quintessence of the exhibition's theme. The men, both glassblowers, actually set out to create a new art form, combining Soroka's expertise as a robotics designer with Sinkus' interest in geology as a collector of minerals.

The result is CLEO: Crystal Light Emitting Object. It uses artificial intelligence to react to viewers. It's quite beautiful; a gold frame surrounds a cluster of glass "crystals," which light up in various color spectrums as viewers approach. CLEO's communication becomes more precise the more it responds to people. It hates to be alone. Other CLEOs are all connected, and they respond to "human touch, presence, the magnetic forces of this planet and the collective behavior of humans." Much of how it works is beyond me, but it's fun.

Individual pieces from Soroka and Sinkus are also on display, enhancing the concept of the pivot. Soroka's Your Friend's Nose is like a glass Rube Goldberg machine with a finger and a nose, moved with a krypton-filled mechanical crank. It's humorous, and whimsical, but Soroka's scientific mind comes through. Sinkus' interest in geology is on display with Tourmaline Panel. It looks like a slice of the watermelon variation of that gem, but is actually carved, sculpted, kiln case soda lime glass. That it's displayed on a piece of natural Ashfield stone makes it look even more real.

In any fine craft, there's a tendency to get caught up in the beauty of the object or the skill with which it was executed. But most of the artists in "Pivot" are exploring conceptual themes through their creations.

Eunsuh Choi works through moments of personal growth through incredibly delicate flame-worked sculptures. In Dreams III, a house rises from tree roots and a tree grows through the center of it, reaching into clouds, symbolizing the quest for personal fulfillment. It is breathtaking.

The pate de verre leaves in Demetra Theofanous' installation look like they'll blow away, a reminder of the impermanence of life. She seeks to connect people with nature with her work. It's hard to not feel the bond when you see the bright blue, spotted eggs tucked into the intricately woven bird's nest.

Heritage informs Dan Friday's bears and totem. He's a member of the Lummi Nation, a Native American reservation in Washington. His family is known as "Children of the Setting Sun," and his great-grandfather, Xa-Tel-Ek, was known as the bear.

The constantly changing nature of technology motivates Jennifer Crescuillo to create objects that are obsolete, or just on the brink. Her homage to the cassette player, Future Fossil, Calico Panasonic, is marbled and crusty, like a relic. She presents it this way to provoke viewers to remember the object when it was the newest thing. She's fascinated by the human instinct to constantly adapt and advance.

Contact Maggie Duffy at mduffy@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8572. Follow @maggiedalexis.

If You Go

Pivot

On display through Dec. 22. $15, $13 seniors and military, $10 college students and ages 7-18, free for 6 and younger and members, $5 on Thursdays after 5 p.m. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. 1901 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 300-1700. imaginemuseum.com.

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