Symbiotic Spheres

Symbiotic Spheres

Hiromi Takizawa Ultraviolet installation

Ultraviolet (2013), an installation by Hiromi Takizawa, pairs neon lights with plants.

Robert C. Beck and Sarah Max Beck

NJ / Millville
Museum of American Glass at WheatonArts
"Symbiotic Spheres: The Interlocking Worlds of Glass, Science, and Art"
to December 30 

Glass has built-in duality: It’s neither a typical solid nor a liquid, yet it has the structural qualities of both. It’s equally at home in science labs and art studios – as suitable for beakers and test tubes as it is for creative inquiry and expression – making it the perfect material for exploring their overlap.

With an MFA in glass and a bachelor’s in biology, Brooklyn artist Benjamin Wright was a natural to curate this show. “A lot is made about the differences between science and art, but I am acutely aware of the curiosity, creativity, and experimentation integral to groundbreaking work in either field,” he says.

From a deep bench of artists from various disciplines, Wright invited nearly 30 to consider the museum’s 25,000 pieces of historic and contemporary glass as raw material for their own work. “It was important that the show interact with the museum’s collection,” he says. “It moves in and out of display cases and also works to make a million connections between objects and art throughout the museum.”

Of the installations, “none consist of a single stand-alone piece,” says Kristin Qualls, director of exhibitions and collections. “They are a mix of newly made artwork, older pieces original to the artists, and conversations with artifacts and artworks from the museum’s permanent collections.” In Suggested Parameters, artist Zac Weinberg created a taxonomy for Wright to follow when filling a showcase, with vertical and horizontal axes that place glass objects along the spectrum of industry, science, and art, with their various methods and intents. In David King’s All Things Are Only Transitory, priceless glass works and chunks of broken glass are arranged purely by hue, an illumination of color theory, as well as our perception of value and beauty.

Among new works in the show are a group of space vessel sculptures by Rik Allen and Lanny Bergner, Jen Elek’s precisely engineered composition of colored and counterweighted glass plates, and tiny crystalline sculptures by Karen Donnellan and John Hogan that are scattered throughout the exhibition, adding shots of light and color.

“The artists who constructed installations in the museum or worked directly with the collection did an amazing job of embracing and amplifying the weird,” Wright says.

“Symbiotic Spheres” also pays tribute to its home turf with a display of wares from South Jersey scientific glassware makers, curated by retired glass technology professor Dennis Briening.

The museum hopes to send visitors home with refreshed ideas about science, art, and glass. As Wright says, “These are all artists who ask open-ended questions and challenge the audience to do the same.”