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Arts & Culture

'Contemporary Glass Sculpture: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Studio Glass'

Orlando Museum of Art's colossal art-glass exhibition is a visual treat

Photo: Stephen Knapp, Transformed Orange, License: N/A

Stephen Knapp, Transformed Orange

Photo: Tim Tate, Mermaids Past Their Prime, License: N/A

Tim Tate, Mermaids Past Their Prime

A few of the pieces that I do recommend: Littleton's cased arcs, with their bendy stripes of color captured in transparency, have a fabulously '70s appeal (they were made in the '80s, but still) reminiscent of supergraphics and ribbon candy. So does "Red Delicious Apple," which looks like an Enzo Mari print come to poppy 3-D life. I could gaze into the radiant depths of two abstract pieces of Czech glass, "Crater" and "Rhomboid Head," for hours; the deeply saturated colors of these massive chunks of mold-formed glass seem mysteriously to both absorb and generate light, lending them an enigmatic, almost profound force. Tim Tate's "Eco Mutants," a glass bottle enclosing a tiny tableau including a flickering video screen, updates the Victorian bell jar for contemporary consumption.

The show is divided officially into three sections: Color, Representation and Transparency, but a group of works along the back wall propose a fourth division: Light. Pieces by Stephen Knapp and Sydney Cash use glass more as a tool than a material — the "body" of the work, which is in fact incorporeal, is the patterns of light that are cast through carefully fabricated and mounted pieces of glass. Cash's tightly controlled, graphic concentric rings and lines are achieved by shining spots through plates of glass that are partly clear, partly mirrored; Knapp's art is borne of bits and pieces of dichroic glass, mounted in what would seem a random and uninteresting arrangement, were the carefully aimed beams of light not splashing out great vivid shouts and streaks of color.

Towering over the representational works are "Tula Frontera Sur" and "Tula Frontera Norte," by Einar and Jamex de la Torre. The Mexican brothers' 10-foot-tall border sentinels have an anarchic, carnival quality: giant robots with television tummies! But upon closer inspection, the hybrid concatenations of blown and found glass bite back. The mashup of Catholic iconography, Toltec symbology and pop-culture detritus – Elvis busts, golf clubs and Budweiser bottles for el Norte; shotguns, chili peppers and scorpions south of the border – offers a raucous commentary on cultural stereotyping.

In the room full of clear glass, one piece of note is by a local artist: Robert Mickelsen's borosilicate "Japanese 7.7mm 'Type 99' Light Machine Gun" is both intricate and cheeky. But the true wonders of the room are the bulky transparent forms – cubes and spheres and eggs – that only reveal their complexities at certain angles of observation. What looks like – is – a clear cube appears, when viewed from above, to contain a dizzying Escher-like environment, the result of precise molding and cutting (Steven Weinberg's "Untitled, #090402"). A huge wing of impossibly pure optical glass, seen from the side, has a notch cut into the back; seen from the front, the notch resolves itself into a perfect lily floating within the glass (Christopher Ries, "Desert Flower").

Almost 80 percent of this show comprises works loaned by Florida collectors, and four of those collectors will be present at an afternoon forum presented Sunday, Feb. 24. A docent-led tour of the exhibition at 12:30 p.m. will precede a 1:30 p.m. roundtable discussion with collectors Arnold Bierman, Norma Roth, Gary Sorensen and Chuck Steinmetz, along with Hansen Mulford. The Glass Collectors Forum is free with paid admission to the museum.

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