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Saturday, March 02, 2024
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The historicism of the studio glass movement in the Chazen’s ‘Look What Harvey Did’

“Look What Harvey Did” narrates Harvey K. Littleton’s legacy in the birth and foundation of the American studio glass movement.

“Look What Harvey Did: Harvey K. Littleton’s Legacy in the Simona and Jerome Chazen Studio Glass Collection,” opened to the public Nov. 6 at the Chazen Museum of Art. The exhibition details the development of the American studio glass movement as pioneered by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus Harvey K. Littleton. 

The studio glass movement emerged in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, characterized by a shift from traditional methods of glassmaking, such as factory production. Harvey K. Littleton cultivated small-scale studios that fostered independent environments, allowing artists to explore their own creative ideas. Studio glass artists explored the form as an artistic medium beyond its use as functional and everyday objects as they incorporated a wide range of techniques, styles and concepts into their work. 

Davira S. Taragin, the exhibition's guest curator, furnished a humble room in the Chazen with a range of almost entirely glassware forms. 

With what once began as a male-dominated glassblowing phenomenon, Taragin creates a visual narrative using the studio glass collection as a mosaic to demonstrate how the art form expanded a global medium for contemporary expression beyond its common functional use. 

Attendees will walk away having traversed an intersection of artistic innovation and technical prowess that redefines the art landscape. 

The collection features seven different yet innately intertwined subsects that detail glassblowing progression: “The Forerunners,” “The Beginning of a Movement,” “Working Together,” “How We Use It,” “The Women,” “Protest” and “Glass+.”

Imbued by historicism, Simona and Jerome Chazen’s collection presents an extrospection in their range of American precursors to the studio glass movement. Frances Higgin’s “Branchless Treespresents a fused glass and enamel landscape, where he joined different sheets of glass in order to create a dynamic piece that serves as a testament to the early potential of the medium as an art form. 

“The Beginning of a Movement” recognizes Littleton’s paternal role in the development of studio glass and the revival of contemporary blown glass revival. The era marked a significant juncture in the movement’s trajectory as it shifted from technical refinement toward diversified expression of conceptual ideas. 

“Technique is cheap” asserts Littleton, as noted within the text on the exhibition wall.

Littleton’s “Triple Loops,” an early example of his mature aesthetic and an exhibition highlight, relies on gravity and manipulation of glass-laden punty, an iron rod used to gather molten glass, to create unique forms. 

The exhibition serves as a microcosm of the studio glass movement’s development, reverberating the notion of legacy as it features the works of Littleton’s UW-Madison disciples. 

The studio glass movement reformed past being a man’s occupation, paralleling the beginning of the women’s movement. “The Women” subsect emphasizes this demographic departure through the works of Ginny Ruffner, whose flameworked glass “Another Pretty Face” features acrylic-painted women on the complexities of the form itself. 

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The shift from technique to conceptual messages is further permeated in the exhibition’s narrative, where works by artists like Michael Aschenbrenner and Scott Chaseling delve into powerful political and social commentary. 

Chaseling’s “Loaded Messages” emphasizes the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword.” The exterior vessel form portrays two figures, one with a pointed gun and another with duplicitous speech. However, the internal painting features intimate scenes of a seated man engrossed in his writing and a woman’s breasts, contrasting the more violent outer form of the vessel. The piece emphasizes the visceral power of glass as an art medium, serving as an instrument of social criticism that can give way to societal progress. 

Studio glass has evidently transformed under the early influence of Littleton, permeating through space and time. The exhibition confronts the complexities of the movement’s development as derived from Harvey K. Littleton’s forerunning techniques, detailing the multitude of artists and their styles that leave attendees with a comprehensive understanding of the medium.

“Look What Harvey Did” runs through Aug. 16, 2024 at the Chazen. 

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