Water and Glass in House of Sweden

Water and Glass in House of Sweden

Ingalena Klenell’s glass postcard hangs against the windows of the House of Sweden until May 

What a coincidence to finish writing the last blog — about window art and glass — and then receive an invitation to the opening of a glass art exhibition at the beautiful House of Sweden.  Washington’s Swedish Embassy is a beautiful building because it celebrates the water, with water flowing down its front entrance.  Also a portion of the building cantilevers over the water.  It’s in the eastern part of Georgetown, not quite on the Potomac, but overlooking it. 

A postcard on glass intermingles with reflections
and views of the Potomac, from inside the
House of Sweden, Washington, DC

The display brings together images of the Nordic lands, waters and forests with the flowing panorama of the Potomac River.  The centerpiece of the current showings is Homeland, works of glass by Ingalena Klenell, a noted glass artist from Sweden.  Her work has been shown at Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington and the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.  However, there’s a great advantage to displaying some of the works at the House of Sweden.  A series of large glass postcards are put up against the windows.  We see them as relate to their setting, surrounded by the waters of the Potomac and with openings for the pedestrians to weave in and out of the holes.

Klenell made the postcards from realistic photographs that have been transferred to glass.  The glass windows, though, have holes in them to evoke the fact that memories are incomplete and imperfect.  The artist believes in the importance of connection to place and emphasizes these links.  Therefore, the largest glass installation is a mirrored reflection that evokes the place of display, the rapidly flowing waters of Washington’s Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay region.   

Artist Ingalena Klenell is from the province of Varmland, a region of  in the middle of the country that is the focus of the Embassy’s current promotion and display.  We see her installation along with displays of regional storytelling, some of the beautiful fabrics of the region, and a historical home celebrating its 250th aniversay.

Table glass to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Baroque
von Echstedtska Manor in Varmland, made by
Ingalena Klenell

Krenell made a table display with gorgeous place settings of glass to celebrate the birthday of the home being referenced, the von Echstedtska Manor, a masterpiece of the Baroque style.  Her precision and attention to detail show in the roses, horses and swans on the table.  She uses a mixture of glass techniques such as hot casting, kiln-forming and kiln casting.

Of her work, Klenell has said that there is a brittleness and a vulnerability of the glass medium.  These qualities combine with light as the source of inspiration and are intimately intertwined with the search of what is central in the human condition.   (Information taken from European Glass Context 2012 website, an exhibit of the best in European glass, in Bornholm)

Centerpiece of the Birthday table celebration
by Klenell at House of Sweden

Certainly Sweden has a rich tradition of beautiful glass.  I think of the wonderful glass products produced by Orrfors and Kosta Boda, which originate in Sweden.  Everywhere in the exhibition, it’s clear that Klenell was inspired by her landscape, the tall firs, pines and birch trees but also the snow and the icicles. Her art is at the intersection of folk art, decorative arts, craft  and the avant-garde art of today.

The beauty of icicles especially is difficult to replicate and even the finest of artists struggle to capture the beauty of nature.  Ingalena Klenell succeeds.  I only wish I had seen the huge glass forests that were on display in Tacoma, the Figge Museum in Davenport and Minneapolis.

Window Art Evokes Patterns of Nature

Window Art Evokes Patterns of Nature

Allison Svoboda, Urban Institute of Contemporary Art, Installation, 2013
Vortices, cut and painted paper, 40’x12′

In art history classes, we learn that Renaissance artists made their paintings based on the vision of recreating a scene as if looking out a window, its frame becoming the defining edges from which to compose the painting. They created aerial and linear perspective to show how things look in the distance from that point of view.

Artists are no longer tied to those constrictions of creating illusions, so what about turning the windows into art?  There’s some artists who’ve done exactly that, while at the same time evoking and imitating patterns of nature and the weather.  Here’s a few good examples.

Allison Svoboda is a paper artist is Chicago.  Her sophisticated Vortices were a 40′ x 12″ installation exhibited at the Urban Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Rapids, last year.

 Organic paper constructions ebb and flow, reminding us of the elements.  We can think of the must beautiful aspects of rain and snow when looking out and about her handmade constructions. There’s white, gray, black and blue, all the colors evocative of weather phenomena and shapes to express its temperamental nature. Svoboda explains that it is the enormous energies of nature which inspire her.  “The theory of fractal geometry; infinite layers of self-similar shapes repeated in every living thing, hold an endless fascination for me.”

Light flows inside Svoboda’s window art, but the papers give nuances of shade, and great contrast when hitting against blue skies.  There’s also wonderful floor patterns created from light and shadow.  Of course, these patterns shift and change as the day goes on.  Paper is the medium.  I’m guessing that loads of other materials could be used as creatively.

Vortices are natural occurring whirlpools in nature. Another piece of window art I saw imitates a calmer quality of nature.  When on a trip to Healdsburg, California, an amazing work of environmental art had recently been made for the Spoon Bar, the restaurant at H2Hotel.  Northern California artist Ned Kahn made a sculptural installation for the site, a magical window vista called Spoonfall

Upon further inspection and discovery, small streams of  water were falling down a vertical grid interspersed with spoons. As the spoons swung up and down, water landed from one spoon to the next.  Everything sparkled, especially as water hit metal and captured reflections of light.  The trickling flow of water made the sounds very soothing and comforting, calming an atmosphere that could have become too noisy.

As Kahn says, he see patterns which enhance our perception of natural phenomena.  He typically makes art works which incorporate water, fog, wind and/or light and fire, i.e. elements of nature. His works include vortices, too.   Kahn has always been fascinated with the confluence of art and science. 

Recreating different kinds of movements and flows make us more keenly aware of the patterns in nature.  In that way, Svoboda and Kahn are much alike, but their materials—simple paper for Svoboda, water and metal for Kahn—could not be more different.  These artists make us see and understand our world so much better. 

Ned Kahn, Spoonfall, 2010, Spoon Bar Restaurant at the H2Hotel, Healdsburg, CA

Marseille: New Glass Designs for an Old Port

Marseille: New Glass Designs for an Old Port

Villa Méditerrannée, a new building by Stefano Boeri, has an auditorium below the sea, but much if its exhibition space is suspended in mid-air.  This view leads to the towers of Marseille’s 19th century multi-colored marble cathedral.

France’s oldest city and one the great ports of the Mediterranean has been revitalized to become a European Cultural Capital of Europe this year.  Some of the most innovative practicing architects of today are making their mark on the city, cleaning up old areas and transforming it into an exciting new seaport environment.  Abandoned parts of the old port and places where immigrants first entered the city are in the process of being turned into new commercial areas, with restaurants, art galleries, museums, music venues and shops.

Marseille became a Greek city about 2700 years ago.  The
 island is where the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned.

Sheaths of glass, concrete and metal, the materials of new architecture, butt up against the old stone towers, hills and masts of this port which geographically reminds me of San Francisco to a certain extent.  (Reminiscent of the Alcatraz, there’s an island in the harbor containing Chateau d’If, where the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned.) Yet, the feeling inside is more rugged and grittier than San Francisco, with a multinational flavor.

Ricciotti designed MuCEM with
a ramp linked to Fort Saint-Jean

My photos taken last month showed the MuCEM (Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean) nearly finished, adjacent to the Villa Méditerranée.  The 236 square foot box building, right, will be the country’s largest museum outside of Paris. In essence, the building has two facades, the glass covering and the concrete covering.  The outer covering is a dark blue concrete which I actually thought was made of steel/ it shields the glass and museum visitors from the intense Mediterranean sun.  The “lacey” outer face and “glassy” inner building and the two parts connect with a ramp.  A walkway also links the new building to the very old 12th century building and tower, the Fort Saint-Jean.

From another vantage point (Parc du Pharo), the 19th century multi-colored marble cathedral pops up behind the t concrete lattice patterns of the brand new Museum of Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM).

Architect Rudy Ricciotti’s style has also raised eyebrows. He designed a floating gold roof on the Louvre in Paris to house the Islamic collection and a Jacques Cocteau museum in Menton.  Each building is quite different, though, unlike Frank Gehry’s architecture.  MuCEM’s concrete shell resembles a fisherman’s net. Its concrete is blue-gray, but that color will change with reflections of light, water and the sun. Ricciotti calls the eight different lattice patterns “sun-breakers.”  They are meant to shield the southern and western facade from intense sunlight.  MuCEM opened June 7, 2013.

A fishnet pattern of concrete
shields MuCEM from intense
sun on the south and west.

Next door is the Villa Méditerrannée, a product of Italian architect Stefano Boeri’s design studio, and a building devoted to exhibiting Marseille’s Mediterranean culture.   It has a huge, cantilevered roof, but below it is an area with a view into the sea basin.  The building’s auditorium goes under the water, too.  The museum officially opened last weekend.  Its exhibitions and films visualize the present and the future of the sea.  Supported by the region of Provence-Alpes-Cote’Azur, Villa Méditerannée hopes to encourage communication among the many countries which have ports on the Mediterranean   It can be understood as an exciting new cultural center for the entire Mediterranean region. 

Another view of Boeri’s Villa Méditerannée, with Ricciotti’s MuCEM and Fort Saint-Jean to right.  Glass is used extensively in the new buildings to take
advantage of reflections of sun and water.

There are other new museums, including the Musée des regards de Provence, where the old health station had been and where immigrants first went as they entered Marseille. The museum has a Michelin three-star restaurant. 

There’s a new museum of decorative arts and a fine arts museum at Palais Longchamp has reopened after being closed many years.  (That museum and the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence are hosting large exhibitions of the shares a major exhibitions of the many important artists who painted in the region, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, etc. In fact, Arles and other venues in Provence are sharing in the European Cultural Capital events.  The Palais du Pharo, on the shoreline of Marseille has a large sculptural exhibition of steel arcs by Berner Venet, in celebration of the events.) 

In the Parc du Pharo, the sculptor Bernar Vernet designed 12 steel arcs, called
Desordre, created a pattern of light and shadow against the shoreline.

Reflective glass creates is s museum without walls,
at FRAC, a regional museum of contemporary art.

It seems that all the contemporary architects working here–the local and the international ones–respect the city’s very irregular seaport.  They design with the knowledge that water reflects light and that glass reflects water and light.  Multitudes of glass heighten the reflections many times over.

FRAC (Fonds regional d’art contemporain or the Regional Collection of Contemporary Art) opened in March, 2013.   The building has about 55,000 square feet.  Its the work  work of Japanese architect Kenzo Kuma. The exterior is covered with 1,500 panes of glass, all of which have been recycled and enameled in the workshop of Emmanuel Barrois.

Kenzo Kuma designed FRAC, a regional museum of
contemporary art

Kuma, like Ricciotti, is concerned with shielding the sun. (It’s interesting that exhibition while I was there concerned environmental art.) The glass is hung and diverse angles, offset from the building at various places.  Kuma tries to evoke a museum without walls, and a feeling of openness prevails.  There is a beautiful, peaceful aura to his building, a feeling modern Japanese architects convey so well. Kuma also said that he imitated the flow of space learned from the study of Le Corbusier, a labyrinthine, interlocking flow of space.  

Le Corbusier, Cité Radieuse, 1947-52.  It has 347 apartments on 12 stories

Going to Marseille warrants a trip to the Cité Radieuse, Le Corbusier’s masterpiece of modern architecture, formerly called l’Unité d’Habitation.  

Entrance to Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse
The ground floor rests on muscular “pilotis” made
of concrete, which hold up the building

His blueprint for modern living, completed in the 1950s, unifies all aspects of living, eating, school, doctors and recreation in one building. Unfortunately, there was a fire last year which harmed some units but most of the building is intact.  Many portions of the building have recently been painted and the colors make a brilliant splash reminiscent of Mondrian.  It’s hard to go to the restaurant without disturbing clients or to visit one of the individual apartments without an invitation. 

The ground floor lobby radiates warmth and color

As much as I don’t necessarily think architects should try to be sociologists who tell people how to live, but this building succeeded and the residents like it.  The concept and design were repeated again in Nantes, Berlin, Briey and Firminy.  Le Corbusier proved that the modern concrete  could be beautiful, colorful and expressive. Concrete, usually when reinforced with cast iron, need not be sterile.  

An art school is on the rooftop.  The
force of brutal concrete pushes
against the sky

The day we were there, a film crew was making a television commercial on the roof and all kinds of goods were set blocked off and set aside for film use.  It was May 22nd, and the sky was making some interesting cloud designs.  Like Antoni Gaudí, Le Corbusier made his ventilation shafts into expressive, sculptural forms.  The brutal, rough-hewn concrete has force and muscle which come alive against the muscle a alive against the sky.

The rooftop is a communal terrace and residents have a straight view to Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea.   We’re left with the feeling that yes, Marseille is a city with muscle and it will be a force for 2700 more years.   

Notre-Dame de la Garde, perched high above
the old port, has protected the
boats for years

Construction was going on everywhere the other time I went to Marseille, in 2011. The photo below on the left, taken at that time, may represent a vista that’s gone now.  It was on the other side of the port and opposite the church of Notre-Dame de la Garde.

Fishing and seafaring have always
been the business of Marseille. 

Boats, fishing and seafaring will continue for a long time, as long as we respect and protect our resources.

Chihuly’s  Glass Garden in Seattle

Chihuly’s Glass Garden in Seattle

The art of glass is a place where artistic vision, exquisite craftsmanship and landscape design come together.  Currently, there’s an exhibition of Chihuly Glass at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, which may be a distance to go see, but worth it!  It’s the third major installation in a US Museum, following exhibitions in San Francisco and Boston. One can expect huge crowds and colorful visions that are full of surprise.
Chihuly’s Garden of Glass opened last spring in Seattle. 
The Seattle museum is adjacent to the Space Needle and Frank Gehry’s Experience Music.   Over Labor Day weekend, I had the pleasure of going to Seattle when it wasn’t raining, thanks to my niece for choosing the right time to have her wedding on Bainbridge Island.

September is lovely in Seattle, and when the sun is out, the full spectrum of the colors can be appreciated.  It may not be as bright in winter, but if I had to live there through the rainy winters, the colors  probably would give me some solace.  Chihuly is a native of Tacoma and it is a wonder that he developed such color and technique in this climate. Chihuly studied glass blowing on the island of Murano, near Venice, Italy, one of the few places known for making exquisite glass. Glass blowing techniques go back to the Egyptians, and the Romans learned from them.   Surprisingly, there are many other glass artists and craftsmen working today, but we really have to credit Dale Chihuly for bringing back artistry, craftsmanship and popular interest into the art of glass.

Radiant complementary colors abound.The Garden of Glass includes outdoor and indoor spaces.

One time I had gone to the Chihuly’s Bridge of Glass in Tacoma on a rainy winter day.  I tried, but it was impossible to appreciate the array of colors through the gloom of a rainy winter day.  From November to April, the rain is constant in Washington.
There are many rooms and sections of the indoor museum, including a section of Native American weavings which have influenced the artist.  To me the Glass Forest, below,  is the most impressive interior room.  Circles, swirls, and organic shapes compete for attention against a black background.

Before leaving the building, flowers of glass hang from the ceiling.     Light, color and reflection give a endless array of design.

The Chihuly Garden of Glass is permanent but the Virginia Museum exhibition will last until February 10th.  Going along with its exhibition, the museum made and recently this video of Dale Chihuly in his studio.  He obviously needs a host of workers in the Walla Walla Studio to make these magnificent organic visual wonders.