Adriano Berengo, a true Venetian, lives and works in Venice. He holds a foreign languages degree from Ca’ Foscari University (Venice), and he also specialised in comparative literature at a New York state university. Berengo is the visionary behind Fondazione Berengo, Glasstress and the glass factory Berengo Studio 1989, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Following in the footsteps of Egidio Costantini and Peggy Guggenheim, who introduced outstanding artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall to Murano glass, Berengo has been championing the innovative use of glass as a medium in contemporary art for 30 years, by inviting more than 300 artists to work with the glass masters in his studio in Murano. In the 2019 Venice Biennale, artists representing both Austria and France are featuring works made in Berengo Studio.
Monica Bonvicini’s work of her hands cast in glass holding a belt bent in half recalls the performance A Choir of Five, in which a group of female performers used belts as musical instruments by snapping them. With this work, Bonvicini emphasizes the struggle against cultural symbols of masculinity, discipline and violence, with the clear objective of overturning pre-established relationships of power and gender.
Michael Joo’s work in mirrored glass represents the ropes used at entrances of public places to limit access or barriers used to protect artworks in museums. Here, the fragility of glass and its very intricate positioning make it impossible to find a path to follow, and what should protect art is itself a very fragile artwork to be protected. Expanded Access was first shown in Glasstress 2011 and featured in this exhibition as one of the highlights from the past 10 years of Glasstress.
Javier Pérez surprised and delighted the art world in 2011 when he first showed Carroña in Glasstress 2011 and so it is included as a one of the highlights in this exhibition. Carroña was such a success it is in the permanent collection of the Corning Museum in New York.
Ai embraces many different art forms, from painting to documentaries. At Berengo Studio, he was able for the first time to experiment with Murano blown glass and our avant-garde casting techniques. Ai is considered one of the most important artists of our times, and his works are known worldwide because they reflect his engagement with human rights issues. We started our collaboration with Ai in 2017. For Glasstress 2019, Ai created this installation of his iconic symbol that perfectly expresses his long-lasting denouncement of repressive political systems and censorship. It is a study of perspective not only related to space, but also to ideas. I particularly like this work for its message and irony.
Jaume Plensa, the Spanish artist, has worked with us in the studio for several years. His works in glass are extraordinary and this work Silence realized in pure white silk glass in 2019 especially for Glasstress is no exception. A woman demanding silence with her index finger begs the spectator to think about the concept of silence in this fast-moving world filled with fake news, and noise. Plensa used a like image in Behind The Wall a new monumental outdoor sculpture, which was shown in Rockefeller Centre Plaza in New York as part of the Frieze fair this year.
These doves are the first work Jan Fabre realised in my Studio in 2008 for his exhibition in the Louvre in Paris that year. Fabre’s strong interest in the concept of metamorphosis brought him to explore the interactions between human and animal lives. His passion for science and nature is a springboard for reflections about human behaviour. “Shitting” symbols of peace show Fabre’s ironic sense of humour.
Vik Muniz, the much-acclaimed Brazilian artist, honoured us this year when he accepted my invitation to curate Glasstress 2019 along with Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen. Muniz also realized two works in the Studio that go to the heart of Murano tradition. He created his self-portrait and the portrait of one of his children by using tiny various coloured murrina in a hyper-realistic mosaic. I have to admit that this work left us all stunned.
Erwin Wurm is a genius! His glass projects have evolved and developed in an amazing way and everyone loves them. From the squeezed Venetian mirror shown in Glasstress GOTIKA in 2015 to his blown glass sausages, the fat bus and hot water bottle Mutter and accompanying Father, Wurm has been able to extract from glass the sharp irony that characterizes his work.
I am still surprised by all the works Wurm has been able to realize in the past few years. But it was anything but easy at the beginning. He fought with the material in his first rendezvous with glass in 2011. The intervention of the hand of the maestro on his works, the complexity of working with this new material, the fact that glass is not at all “tameable” and the unpredictability of the result were all factors with which Wurm struggled. But a mind like his could only win and his glass works today tell the story.
One of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of producing an exhibition like Glasstress is that I have the opportunity to meet and work with artists from all over the world. Abdulnasser Gharem stands out as one of those artists and is considered one of Saudi Arabia’s foremost artists. His work for Glasstress, The Stamp (Moujaz), reflects themes that run throughout his entire body of work. The beautiful enormous stamp with the sharp sentence “In Accordance with Sharia Law” brings attention to the strong influences that religion and authority have upon everyday life in Saudi Arabia. Not only is The Stamp a beautiful and meaningful work of art but it is great example of some of the most advanced techniques that we do in the Studio. It combines blowing glass, casting, etching and sandblasting on an extremely large scale.
Saint Clair Cemin is new to Berengo Studio and new to the world of glass. For Glasstress 2019, he created the installation Innocenza (Innocence) whose simplicity and strong visual impact surprised us all. The little crystalline glass chairs hanging on the wall by old rusted nails are a look “too young to be useful,” as the artist explained, and are a metaphor for children who never grow up.
Sudarshan Shetty is a well-known Indian artist who has a well-deserved place on the contemporary international art scene. He first presented work with us in Glasstress 2013, and we were fortunate to have him realise new works especially for Glasstress 2019. In Six Drops, one of his new works, six drops of semen and six drops of blood have been frozen in a transparent glass tube. Shetty likes to play with universal binary systems on which our reality is built up: life and death, familiar and strange, presence and absence.
Laure Prouvost represents France at the 58th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, and I am very proud that we were able to work with her on her installation in the French pavilion, which has been named one of the must-see shows in the Biennale. We also have the privilege of showing her whimsical fountain and works at Glasstress 2019. Her works in glass never fail to charm and delight our visitors.
Wael Shawky’s beautiful and costumed glass marionettes now exhibited in Glasstress 2019 are only two of the 130 glass marionettes that were realized in the Studio in 2014. These fully articulated puppets were characters in Shawky’s film The Secrets of the Kabala, one film in his trilogy, Cabaret Crusades, which focused on the Arab perspective on the Crusades. The Secrets of Kabala was commissioned for MoMA’s PS1 in New York.
Kendell Geers’ work Cardiac Arrest has long been one of my favourite works. It was first shown in Glasstress 2013 and its power still amazes me. The police batons in transparent glass shaped into the form of a giant heart give voice to issues of political repression and social injustice.
A great artist, friend for 30 years and the curator of Glasstress 2019, Koen Vanmechelen is a visionary whose art holds a universal message for human rights. He has been invited by the Global Campus of Human Rights, an academic institution in the EU offering graduate degrees in human rights issues, to work with them with the goal of establishing a supra-national pavilion of human rights in the next biennale. For this project, he created these special sculptures in glass. As Vanmechelen has said, for him, glass represents life since it is made of the elements of life; sand, fire, water and air. At the same time, glass personifies the drive, the engagement and the joint effort of a team bent on making the glass a success. By keeping glass transparent, Vanmechelen believes one can also express the fragility and complexity of life. This is the basis of his work, the drive to communicate and create something utterly new through a joint effort by transcending boundaries. It mirrors the philosophy of DNA: it contains the ingredients of yesterday and holds the promise of a new tomorrow.
Thomas Schütte first became well-known for his art studies regarding human conditions. In his works, it is possible to see the interest he developed in physiognomy and in particular how vices of modern society can be represented on a human’s face, which lead him to create caricatured, distorted, grotesque yet sometimes beautiful features. Schütte’s first work in glass embodied this characteristic and were entitled the Berengo Heads. They are shown in Glasstress 2019 along with his new works, You and Me, a pair of pale pink beautiful and serene faces. Schutte’s works never cease to amaze.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS, 21 ARTISTS AND A BIENNIAL #49, PAGES 177-196.