UNBREAKABLE: WOMEN IN GLASS – ORLAN and Renate Bertlmann feature in new exhibition
Borne of the rapid cooling of molten liquid; transparent, opaque, invisible, optical. Glass is a multi-faceted medium which possesses prismatic potential for artists, as UNBREAKABLE: WOMEN IN GLASS illuminates. Featuring over sixty contemporary female artists from around the world, the exhibition explores ‘the intimate relationship that women have with glass’, according to curator Nadja Romain. Alongside visionary artists from Europe, the United States, Latin America, Iran, and South Korea, two of our Heroines – ORLAN and Renate Bertlmann – have created innovative works spun and constructed from glass, a delicate medium which – as these artists emphasise – has the strength to defy all artistic boundaries.
Both Heroines contribute work which demonstrates their ludic approach to glass as both medium and metaphor; in MIROIRS PORTRAIT-STRESS OF OUR SOCIETY (2009), ORLAN positions a row of Venetian mirrors as vessels filled with oil, water, sequins, blood and gold, subversive juxtapositions which elicit disturbing opulence. New for 2020, Renate recreates her successful installation from the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019, Rosengarten, re-imagining the razor-sharp roses in black. The colour change perhaps initiates a sense of melancholia, adding new dimension to the original Rosengarten’s duality between fragility and aggression. The antagonism faced by women in the art world is the catalyst behind UNBREAKABLE: WOMEN IN GLASS. Curator Koen Vanmechelen believes glass has the power to ‘shape a new generation while healing scars from history’, a vision affirmed by the socially conscious nature of many of the contributing artists, including ORLAN and Renate Bertlmann.
The exhibition asserts the essential role women artists have played in developing the use of glass beyond the realm of functional objects; to accompany the works on display, a special catalogue charting the history of women in glass art will be produced. Contributor Susan Fisher Sterling, Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. observes how ‘we should treasure spaces in which female artists are able to take centre stage […] In 2020 many people in the art world would like to believe that we have achieved parity but the truth is we still have a long way to go.’ The Fondazione Berengo Art Space, an old glass furnace, provides an urban archaeological setting for the exhibition which belies its contemporary relevance. This temporal contrast, however, is appropriate; despite the diversity of the artists and their work, their commonality rests within their importance to both the history of art, and its future. Within the continuing narrative of glass art, the prevalence of pioneering women is a continuity which remains unbroken.
By Katherine Riley
Renate Bergmann, Rosemarie’s Divorce (detail), 2020. Photo credit, Francesco Allegretto.
Renate Bergmann, Rosemarie’s Divorce, 2020. Photo credit, Francesco Allegretto.