Russian Glass Art
by Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen
Photos by Sasha Antonov
On the face of it, glass appears to be a most fragile material which doesn’t immediately lend itself to being an art form; yet when melted down it becomes viscous and can easily acquire the twists of human imagination. Then it congeals and hardens into a work of art – forever. Many centuries have passed, but the craft of glass blowing has neither tarnished, nor died out, but constantly and quietly developed.
In 2000 an art lover, Anna Levychkina, happened to visit a Moscow exhibition displaying art glass from different countries: Italy, France, the United States... Walking about the gallery, she wondered, “And where is Russian art glass?” Russian art glass was not exhibited, although the country has a strong tradition of creating art glass. At the time, glass artists had to look for places to exhibit their work themselves. That is how the idea to create an art glass foundation in Russia came into existence.
In April 2001, the ‘Life of Glass Gallery’ was opened in Moscow. The current art director is Anna Levychkina. “We wanted to create a structure, which would embrace contemporary Russian artists working with glass,” says Anna Levychkina. “We realized that Russian glass artists need help – one must publicize their creativity, help them financially, organize exhibitions for them, make publications about them, and give scholarships to art glass students.”
By a twist of fate, whilst the broad Russian public is unaware of the works of contemporary Russian glass artists, the world’s largest museums boast them. Many of Russia’s masterpieces have been exported, and have been absorbed into private collections in the USA and Western Europe.
Well-known artists, members of the Russian Academy of Arts, Vladimir Muratov, Lyubov Savelyeva, as well as correspondent members of the Academy, Olga Pobedova-Rukavishnikova and Boris Fyodorov, exhibit in the gallery.
Another key institution helping artists who work with glass is the Art Glass Development Foundation. Elena Titova is the current President. The Foundation’s mission is to promote the best of Russian art glass, to show the huge potential of the Russian art glass market both within Russia and abroad.
The first exhibition in the Gallery displayed works of over twenty leading masters of Russia, representing various stylistic trends. The display included authors’ recent works and demonstrated an enormous range of creative ideas. Well-known art critics – Svetlana Kavetskaya and William Meiland – helped to work out the concept of the display.
The ‘Life of Glass Gallery’ also displays a full range of different kinds of glass manufactured today – from optical glass, crystal, and technical glass, to sheet or flat glass. The type of the glass used depends on the oxides added to the glass mass: crystal, for example, becomes crystal when lead is added to it. At first lead was added to the glass mass to make it easier to boil; but then it turned out that with it glass acquires phantasmal qualities – it glitters, glimmers. Optical glass uses a very complicated formula, which can also vary. Different types of optical glass are used in the laser and space industries, in optics – for glasses, binoculars and cameras.
Glass artists can use any kind of glass they wish, depending on their creative priorities.
“We also try to show various techniques of glass processing,” explains Anna Levychkina”, such as ‘guta’ (glass blowing); ‘fusing’ (or baking); ‘mollirovaniye,’ a kind of casting process whereby a hollow wax or plaster model is stuffed with glass, then the glass hardens and the model is melted or broken; cold processing (that is whatever is done with optical glass – filing, polishing, which is in fact sculpting).”
Glass production is a technical process that is constantly developing, unlike the situation with other raw materials used for sculpture such as marble, bronze or stone. Every time new techniques are invented, glass artists have another sculpting tool at their disposal. One such new technology, which is displayed at the gallery, is blowing glass into metal foil, for example. This technique, which is called ‘hot fusing’, gives the work an archaic, mysterious look.
“Glass reflects the outer world;” continues Anna Levychkina, “engulfs it, plays with it, and displays it, depending on the background, on the time of the day, on the light. Glass interacts with you and you fall in love with it very quickly.”
One of the gallery’s recent displays was called ‘Symphony of Optical Illusions’. This was made of optical glass, cast in such a way as to reveal a symphony of forms, facets, rainbows, and an intricate play of light and shade. The names of the displays themselves gave an indication of the variety of different ways that light was used in glass. There was a piece called ‘Moscow Twilight’, with the lights of windows flashing and going out followed by a violet and pink sunrise. There were other displays in this section: ‘A Melody of Light’, ‘Behind the Looking-Glass’, ‘Dedicated to Vasarelli’, ‘The Ray Is Invincible’, ‘The Sail’, ‘The Solaris’.
The museum houses the works of major Russian glass artists such as Natalya Uryadova, Olga Pobedova-Rukavishnikova, Marina Lisitsyna and others. This is the first time in Russia that the works of so many Russian glass artists have been housed in the same place. The gallery plays a pioneering role in introducing glass as not only something you make glasses out of, or use in windows, but as an art form in its own right.
According to the gallery’s press release, fiber optic cable, for example, is used to decorate the gardens of American cottages or Japanese homes, not only in connecting them with the Internet. Glass art, in some countries, but not yet in Russia, has become part of private homes, offices, city streets, recreation places, parks and gardens along with museums and galleries. “At the moment the West is going through a glass art boom,” says Anna. “The USA and Italy are leading the way.”
There is some development in Russia though. The new decor of the Winter Garden in the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow incorporates beautiful glass trees, adding a sparkle of life to what many consider to be the rather solemn style of the Palace. This glass winter garden was created by well-known artists Timur Sazhin and Lidiya Fomina, whose works can also be found in the ‘Life of Glass Gallery’.
The display in the gallery ‘Facets of Beauty’ was all about women. Each artist showed his own vision of the element of femininity in its various revelations. Glass is as varied as woman’s nature. Moreover, they have a lot in common – enigmatic, fragile and unpredictable. Glass is an independent and sophisticated structure, and very often the artist does not know what his final work is going to look like; how the glass is going to behave in his hands. It can shine or tarnish depending on the “attention” of light towards it. A work of glass can be monumental and yet remain fragile and vulnerable. Getting into different interior or exterior situations, glass becomes cold or warm; it may change its color, starting a game with the viewer, carrying him or her into its world full of unexpected associations and illusions.
Life of Glass Gallery
26 Ul. Petrovka, Bldg. 2; (095) 923 0776
Metro Kuznetsky Most or Chekhovskaya
Open from 12.00 19.00; please call before a visit.