Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery's 'Volition' celebrates artists' choices

Kurt Shaw
| Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010

There's only a week left to catch "Volition," the latest show to fill Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery in Shadyside.

The show celebrates aesthetic choice by highlighting the artists' independent decisions and motivations for creating their sculptures. Even in uncertain times, artistic faculty thrives in this exhibit, showcasing the work of Nicole Ayliffe, Tomas Brzon, Matthew Cummings, Alex Fekete, Wes Lambert, Lee Miltier, Quincy Neri, Nancy Otto and Ethan Stern.

Are the works made with a deliberate intent or are the artists simply acting on instinct•

"Come on your own volition and decide," says gallery owner Amy Morgan.

Czecholzlovakian artist Tomas Brzon's cast geometric "Tower" sculptures explore the natural beauty of glass. For Brzon, of Novy Bor, Czech Republic, transparency, reflection, color, and the contrast between refined and rough surfaces are the most important features in his work. He creates sculpture based on his instinct as well as intention.

Brzon begins his work "with a simple sketch" that eventually develops into a small model made of glass or clay. Having an architectural quality, his work explores structure and design in opposition to exploring the fluidity of the medium. It's a refreshing change from so much glass work that focuses on the molten liquid nature of the material.

Matthew Cummings of Normal, Ill., who originally trained as a painter, has always been enamored of the abstract expressionists. After taking a required elective class in glassblowing, he found the potential to work with color and light in a way that painting could never match. Figurative works from his "Philosopher" series in this show highlight Cummings' new body of work, which explores the essence of human movement or gesture through minimal, abstract forms.

"I have begun more and more to view my work as being removed from the human figure and directed towards representations of pure form, movement, and gesture," he says. Cummings' undecorated surfaces allow the viewer to examine the entire piece.

Lee Miltier of Berkeley, Calif., approaches themes of love, death, sex, fatherhood and friendship in his art. In this show, his large attenuated vessel groupings are a metaphor for civilization and our ability to live harmoniously.

"It begins with each of us -- being present in each moment -- to be compassionate, intelligent, and creative," Miltier says. That is, in effect, what it takes Miltier to make his work. The pieces, all from his "Energy Bottle" series, which debuted in 2007, are the result of teamwork, obsessive cold-working, and a queer sense of humor, as evidenced by the fact that they almost seem as if they are moving in front of the viewer.

Quincy Neri of Madison, Wis., works with glass, neon, painting and drawing in order to create distinct and intersecting bodies of work. With strong imagery, an energetic style, and a dramatic use of color, her style is serious, yet fun. Intrigued by deep space, Neri both imagines and researches the heavens.

Her latest blown-glass series is inspired by her fascination with the mysterious beauty of Nebulae -- conglomerates of gaseous and dust particles that spread throughout space --which are formed when these gasses of hydrogen and helium collapse. Neri, once obsessed with natural disasters, particularly tornadoes, identifies her motivation from a desire to feel the wind and electricity and become the phenomenom. Hence, works like "HydrogenCollapse" reference both nature and natural disasters all at once.

San Francisco artist Nancy Otto is a sculptor working primarily in glass, which for her, is an incredibly seductive and versatile medium to express ideas. Her hanging piece, "Influence," is the result of meditating then sketching the shapes that comprise the design. As with this piece, she is particularly drawn toward pushing the structural boundaries of glass -- stretching it almost to the point of cracking, or squashing it until it almost collapses.

The insides of her pieces are often manipulated to create deep impressions or subtle contrasts, as if depicting a voyeuristic window into an inner world of frozen reality.

"I feel these structural tensions add a subtle precariousness within each piece," she says, "and when grouped, they speak to the power in numbers and the fragility of relationships."

Ethan Stern of Seattle, Wash., became captivated by both the malleability of glass and the diversity of techniques. Most intrigued by the functional form of the blown-glass vessel, his study of ancient Greek and Chinese vessels influenced his exploration of the dynamic relationship between surface and form. Thus, his piece "Corner Map" began while examining the effects he could achieve through engraving and carving while at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington.

Engraving and carving the surface allowed him to "pull together elements of color, form, pattern and texture to create a unique voice within the material." These patterns, which can be repetitive or unique, are often reminiscent of ethnographic textile design. At the same time, they become abstract enough to allow Stern to show a personal mark as if he were drawing.

His works, which are both technically masterful and visually extraordinary, have established and defined him as a noteworthy emerging artist in the contemporary glass world.

Additional Information:


What: A group exhibit of new works by Nicole Ayliffe, Tomas Brzon, Matthew Cummings, Alex Fekete, Wes Lambert, Lee Miltier, Quincy Neri, Nancy Otto and Ethan Stern.

When: Through Jan. 30. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon-5 p.m. Saturdays

Admission: Free

Where: Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery, 5833 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside

Details: 412-441-5200 or Web site

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