Contemporary glass at Craft in America Center

The popular notion of glass-as-ornament loses ground at the Craft in America Center, where their current exhibition of studio glass, Seeing Into It: Messages in Glass, is on view through the end of June. Featuring the work of Paul Marioni and Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend, the show is resoundingly contemporary, from the appropriated material to the pairing of image and text. While the strength of their work can stand alone, their historical backdrop heightens their significance. Marioni was a pioneer of the studio glass movement of the 1970s; later that decade he inspired Stinsmuehlen-Amend to join the club. Both artists shared a mutual interest in challenging aesthetic trends and infusing their work with personal narrative, approaches that were unheard of in the historically-entrenched glass medium. Their use of glass as a form of expression, and their long friendship, are what brought this show to fruition.

Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend and Paul Marioni, Craft in America Center

Left: Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend, Grocery Nude To-Do (Calendar Girl), 2013, enamel fired on glass; Right: Paul Marioni, The Visitor, 1984, painted and blown glass, Seeing Into It: Messages in Glass, Craft in America Center, Los Angeles

Paul Marioni’s impact on studio glass is inestimable. By the time he was invited by artist Dale Chihuly to teach at Pilchuck Glass School, he had already earned his reputation as a rebel of sorts. Glass was a medium that rested comfortably as a decorative art form, and Marioni was pivotal in repositioning it as a conceptual medium. Glass did not have to come in the form of a window or fragile sculpture; it could be expressive; figurative; political.

Self-reflection recurs throughout Marioni’s work. In Looking Back, it manifests quite literally as a portrait of himself as a skeleton, staring back at his own, living face. The skeleton and man, friends, smile back at each other. What could be a macabre memento mori comes off instead as a happy form of introspection and a graceful acceptance of the inevitable.

Marioni continues to challenge our expectations in Mad Man, a portrait of himself as a devil. Although he is bathed in red and flashes a ferocious set of canines, he looks anything but mad; just a little mischievous. Nor does the devil of his “rocker” portrait, Lickin, look fiendish. As the kinetic sculpture rocks back and forth, its outstretched tongue brags playfulness and sexual energy.

Paul Marioni, Craft in America Center

Paul Marioni, Lickin’, 2005, kinetic cast glass, Seeing Into It: Messages in Glass, Craft in America Center, Los Angeles

Stinsmuehlen-Amend’s A Man’s Chair (2003) is comparatively forbidding in tone. In this enamel-on-glass panel, an armchair rests against a backdrop of flames; an enraged face, Gorgon-like, sprouts out of the chair. Once belonging to Stinsmuehlen-Amend’s father, the chair was forbidden among she and her siblings. This is an index of the dysfunction that riddled her childhood, a reality that she fearlessly confronts in her artwork.

In her Calendar series, Stinsmuehlen-Amend reveals the intimate details of adult life. She has copied entries from her planner onto glass panels, revealing words like “chemo” and “Dr. Skanky,” relics of her mother’s struggle with cancer. The accompanying scribbles, expressions of her subconscious, are a contrast to the more cerebral experience of recording in a planner.

Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend, Craft in America Center

Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend, A Man’s Chair, 2003, enamel fired on glass, mixed media on wood panels, Seeing Into It: Messages in Glass, Craft in America Center, Los Angeles

The bravura and self-awareness of Marioni and Stinsmuehlen-Amend are a perfect match for glass. The medium is tirelessly evocative: it plays with light like no other material; it reflects; its inherent transparency makes it a valuable metaphorical tool; and its long history as a decorative art form makes it all the more compelling as a conceptual medium.

Seeing Into It: Messages in Glass is on view at the Craft in America Center, Los Angeles through June 28, 2014.

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by Olivia Fales
in Focus on the American West

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