Art review: Stanislav Libenský Award 2011
Third annual award recognizes young glass artists
Posted: October 12, 2011
Martina Paljesková Pišková's Medicine for Medicine rethinks utilitarian glass use.
Standing like a guardian angel at the entrance to the concurrent exhibitions "Stanislav Libenský Award 2011" and "Glass.Design" at the Imperial Stables of Prague Castle, sending out a rainbow spectrum of light, is Column 3V - Victory, a tiered glass column by Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová that ushers visitors in to the display of this year's winners and nominees in the third annual Stanislav Libenský Award for the youngest generation of glass artists from around the world.
It is fitting that this award for glassmaking students and recent graduates carries the Libenský name. Not only was Libenský, together with his wife and longtime artistic collaborator, Jaroslava Brychtová, the most renowned Czech glass artist of the 20th century, but he was also a highly influential teacher who helped to shape several generations of glass artists, first at the Secondary School of Applied Arts for Glassmaking in Železný Brod and then as head of the glass studio at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (AAAD) in Prague.
This international selection of works, most made purely of glass and some incorporating glass with other materials, shows great promise for the upcoming generation of glassmakers. Libenský was pivotal in expanding the possibilities of glass, encouraging people to perceive it not only as a material for manufacturing functional items such as glassware for the table but as an art medium in its own right.
In reality, it is just as difficult for glassmakers to live solely from selling their fine art sculptures as it is for artists who work in wood or stone. Those who want to pursue a career in glass often find work designing for commercial glass manufacturers. Indeed, Brychtová herself worked for more than three decades as a designer of glass in architecture for the Železný Brod Glassworks.
at Imperial Stables of Prague Castle Ends Oct. 31. Open Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
The second exhibition within the space of the Imperial Stables, "Glass.Design," presents representative pieces from the designer lines of major commercial glass manufacturers such as Moser, Baccarat, Orrefors and several Czech companies - symbolically encircling the works by the young glass artists. For example, there are pieces by Czech glass artists Jiří Šuhájek and René Roubíčk for Moser and a set of drinking glasses by the late Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický for the Alessi company of Italy.
Perhaps this marriage of young glass artists and commercial glass manufacturers is why the first and second prizes in the competition are works that could smoothly transition into commercial production. Technically well-made and beautiful pieces, they lack the spirit of adventurous experimentation that Libenský himself encouraged in his students. The more imaginative and innovative pieces, however, would resist mass production.
The winner of the top prize, Jiří Růžička (1982) from the Technical University of Liberec, found inspiration for functional serving pieces in glass bricks used in architecture, which he sawed, cut, polished and glued into a set of bowls for modern interiors.
Mai Yamamoto (1985) from the Tokyo University of the Arts won second prize with her entry Breeze, four individual pieces of hot-shaped and cut glass that are like exotic flowers or snow crystals under a microscope. These undeniably beautiful pieces are, however, something one would more likely encounter being sold as decorative paperweights in a high-end gift shop than in a contemporary art setting.
Some of the most captivating pieces bring a twisted sensibility to rethinking the traditional utilitarian uses of glass. Medicine for Medicine by Martina Paljesková Pišková (1985) from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava is a set of candy dishes composed of hundreds of colorful pills, made from lamp-worked and fused glass. A set of oversized perfume bottles by Hungarian artist Izabella Göncz (1985) works with the idea of the scent of fear, with mug shots of convicted serial killers seemingly trapped behind prison bars inside the bottles.
The entry by Australian David Yule (1983), who studies at the AAAD, offers a new way to look at the world-famous Bohemian crystal. Yule placed two cut-glass bowls and a platter on the stage glass of overhead projectors so that they cast geometric patterns of light on the vaulted ceiling of the Imperial Stables.
Glass is a material that often seems to bring out artists' sense of humor. Toilet by Slovak artist Patricija Vrbnjak (1981) is an installation of a toilet with a melted and fused glass seat, accessorized by a toilet brush with bristles made of colored glass. Emilie Haman (1983) from France adds a touch of devilish fun with her high-heeled glass shoe for a cloven hoof. Shannon Brunskill (1976) from the University of Texas at Arlington combines found objects - the frame of a classic tricycle and little red wagon - and thermal shocked glass to evoke the fragility of childhood and invisible emotions.
Architectural glass is a strong trend among the finalists in this competition. Glass sculptures that mimic or evoke the built environment or other structures include Archi 01 Object by Czech artist Veronika Kopečná (1984), DNA by Polish artist Marcin Litwa (1984), Interaction by Austrian artist Lisa Alm (1987), Crystal Vault by Australian artist Jennifer Ashley King (1981) and, especially, Pixel Traffic-Ghost by Hungarian artist Hajnalka Virág (1985) and Active Construction by Hungarian artist Dóra Varga (1984), which won third prize. They all are self-contained environments that interact with their surroundings through their transparency and reflectivity, like structures in a glass metropolis.
A few of the pieces in the show stand out as works that would most likely be encountered in a contemporary art gallery or museum. Pax Americana by Wiley F. Jackson (1979), an American studying at the AAAD, consists of a large diameter of soil with with around grenades - made of blown glass - half sunk in the dirt in a starburst array. UK artist Robyn Townsend (1989) explores identity issues in Records of Humanity, a series a body fragments cast from soda-lime glass.
Clearly, the youngest generation of international glassmakers is following the example of Libenský and other pioneers of the Studio Glass movement to keep pushing the medium to new expressive ends, whether it's chic, tongue-in-cheek design for modern interiors or contemporary art installations. Such diverse ways of working with glass surely would have pleased Libenský.
Mimi Fronczak Rogers can be reached at