The exhibition Glasstress. Window to the Future is organised by the State Hermitage in conjunction with the Berengo Studio of Venice, running in the General Staff building. The exhibition is being held as part of the Hermitage 20/21 project, established in 2007, that aims to collect, exhibit and study art of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The display features more than 50 works created in glass by contemporary artists on the Venetian island of Murano. The participants include such famous figures as Ai Weiwei, Renate Bertlmann, Koen Vanmechelen, Michael Joo, Petah Coyne, Mat Collishaw and Laure Prouvost. Of particular interest are the pieces produced by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, the Chapman Brothers, Jan Fabre, Jaume Plensa and Hans Op de Beeck – artists whose works have already been shown with great success in exhibitions at the Hermitage.
This is one of the museum’s largest exhibitions of contemporary art, occupying more than ten halls, including the monumental expanses of the Grand Enfilade and White Hall, as well as the intimate spaces of the Courtyard Gallery and the Red Halls in the General Staff building. They will become the setting for miniature sculptures, large-scale installations, chandeliers several metres in size and even video art. The works reflect the artists’ striking complex ideas and show how glass can be “pushed out of its comfort zone” and combined with other materials.
Artists from different countries and generations reflect in their creations on current social processes, historical events, personal experience, the characteristics and philosophy of what was for many of them a new material. The broad contingent of participants will provide visitors to the Hermitage with a unique opportunity to see a cross-section of present-day artistic life around the world and to discover how traditional glass-making technologies can be used to produce works of contemporary art.
Ai Weiwei’s installation, Black Chandelier in Murano Glass, is a complex object made of glass skulls, skeletons, animal bones, internal organs and parts of crabs. It is a reinterpretation of the classic Venetian glass chandelier and turns the functions and meanings inherent in such an article inside out. The work is the artist’s reflection on the deterioration of people’s relationship with nature, the impact on the animal world and humanity’s hazy future.
Joana Vasconcelos’s Babylon was inspired by the magnificent chandeliers in Venetian palazzi. A host of long knitted tentacles intersecting one another, embellished with glass beads and spheres, pierced by dozens of LED lamps, intertwine with large round Murano glass elements. A feminine, life affirming lace organism takes over the chandelier’s glass structure and transforms it into the incredible hanging garden that the title references.
As for Marya Kazoun’s work, The Memphis Squad, originating from the city of Memphis, emerged in the frozen landscape of They Were There*. The squad deploys in areas of turmoil and unrest. Those mantises mutated into a more robust and fearless specie to survive in the new harsh conditions of the changed world. This new frozen world, They Were There (Installation/ performance, 2011), is a result of global warming and climate change. All of the squad’s units have wings but can’t fly because of low temperatures. I chose to work on the praying mantis because in grec the word Mantis means he who is clairvoyant or deviner or he who interrogates the divinities about the future.
Contrarily to what we know about mantises this mutated race is not aggressive at all. They don’t eat each other. They use their antennas to sense violence or violent behaviors. They also use them to communicate among themselves and organize operations to maintain peace.
The Memphis squad stands against all forms of contempt. They are there to restore order and safety. Through those antennas they can neutralize any danger among the surviving species living now peacefully in the landscape of They Were There.
In 2009, the Berengo Studio launched the Glasstress project, within which to date more than 300 artists, designers, architects and painters from around the world, aided by Murano’s glassblowers, have embodied their own highly diverse conceptions in glass. For more than a decade, the project has been a constant companion to the Venice Biennale, as well as putting on Glasstress exhibitions in various parts of the world, showcasing the unique craftsmanship of 21st-century glassblowers that is founded upon the work of artists of centuries past, carefully preserving old traditions and investing them with a new intonation.
In 2015, within the parallel programme of the 56th Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art, the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti in Venice became the venue for the exhibition Glasstress 2015 Gotika, organised by the State Hermitage in conjunction with the Berengo Studio as one of the events marking the museum’s 250th anniversary. The display included specially selected items from the Hermitage’s collection – armour, church plate, reliquaries and other works of applied art made in the Gothic and Neo-Gothic styles – that were presented in a dialogue with pieces created by contemporary artists at the Berengo Studio on the island of Murano. At that time, the idea arose to also present the project in Saint Petersburg. The intervening years have been spent in the careful selection of exhibits, as well as artists producing new works specially for the event in the Hermitage.
The exhibition curators are Dimitri Ozerkov, head of the State Hermitage’s Department of Contemporary Art; Yelisei Zakharenkov, a junior researcher in that department; and Olga Kozhura, research assistant in the department.
Glasstress. Window to the Future is ongoing until 31 October, 2021.
Info is extracted from the press release.