CMU Exhibit Brings 'Transparency' to Art

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 17, 2007 | Go to article overview

CMU Exhibit Brings 'Transparency' to Art


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


With a clever title like "Glassnost," the latest exhibition at Carnegie Mellon University's Regina Gouger Miller Gallery features works that are equally clever by nine artists who either are, or were, art instructors at the university.

The very title, of course, is a play on words. A twist on the Russian word "glasnost," which most folks older than 35 know as the name of former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev's 1985 program for reform.

But Gorbachev himself actually borrowed the term. The word literally translates as "transparency," which is a subtle hint toward the thread that runs through this exhibition -- glass.

Organized by glass artist Kathleen Mulcahy, who last taught glassblowing at CMU in the mid-1980s, this exhibition was inspired by a previous exhibit she also curated titled "Artists Crossing Lines," which was on display in 2002 at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.

Like that previous exhibition, most of the artists participating in "Glassnost" work primarily in other media, but at Mulcahy's urging have taken on the challenge of incorporating glass into works that are similar to their usual investigations.

"I invited (the artists) to think in glass," Mulcahy says. "An important piece of the puzzle was to connect with professional artists living in our region who do not necessarily work in glass, but whose aesthetic wisdom and intellectual pursuit led us to believe they can look at glass or making art with glass in a fresh new way."

Some of the same artwork that was displayed at the Glass Center can be found here, such as Ron Desmett's "Lidded Trunk Vessels," which are large and lumpy black jars formed by blowing molten glass into hollowed-out tree trunks, and Carol Kumata's installation "Fragile," which is a huge mass of suspended, clear-glass candelabras filled with candles, underneath of which the word "fragile" is spelled out in dripped candle wax on the floor.

Kumata's installation reflects her interest in dichotomy by showcasing opposites and complements, inner truths and outer appearances. Several of her works rely upon the passage of time as a key element. Her work in this exhibition, "Fragile," relies upon dripping candle wax that accumulates over time.

Like Kumata, who has been a professor of art at Carnegie Mellon since 1979 and primarily works as a sculptor, most of the artists participating in "Glassnost" work primarily in other media. But their works here exemplify the dialogue that occurs when artists open avenues to new work and, especially, collaboration.

Hilary Harp and Susie Silver have been working collaboratively on projects for some time, such as their single-channel video "The Happiest Day," which has been screened at video and art festivals around the world.

Here, several blob-like abstract glass sculptures displayed on funky pedestals that are obviously influenced by sci-fi movie sets are situated in front of their video piece "Nebula," which features the same sculptures twirling in space to the sound of kitschy "space music. …

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