“Heartland 5,” Belger Crane Yard Gallery

Alison Siegel and Pamela Sabroso, Visual Log, 2023, Mold blown, hot sculpted, and cold worked glass, sea urchin spines, 12.5 x 7 x 7 in.
(photo courtesy the artist)

The “Heartland 5” show at Belger Crane Yard Gallery is the latest iteration of the annual juried exhibit of glass art from artists in the Midwest. It is not as provocative as last year’s show. But if you take your time and engage in some deep looking, the quietude and intimacy that enshrouds many of the exhibition pieces allow for moments of real Zen.

Shelby Allen’s “Inner Space Dichroic Cube,” made from optical, float, and dichroic glass, is a small, prismatic, mute but mesmerizing block fabricated from multiple layers of glass. (Originally this piece was meant to be on a slowly rotating pedestal, an ideal way to animate this bite-size work). In her artist statement, Allen writes: “I love the challenge of achieving a highly polished surface with no imperfections that would distract the eye.” She uses a variety of techniques, including laborious hand-polishing, which she describes as “a highly meditative process that cannot be rushed.”

Jessalyn Mailoa, I Miss You

Another small yet powerful work is “I Miss You” by Jessalyn Mailoa. Also laboriously produced, but not obviously so, the ethereal, powdery pink surface of this delicately coiled strand is the result of, among other processes, being buried in the sand. “I like to use glass as my main material,” Mailoa writes, “because I am interested in its parallels to human nature. Much like people, glass is fragile yet resilient, moldable yet rigid, familiar yet unpredictable.”

All the artists represented here are extremely proficient with glass fabrication, the most technically demanding and physically challenging of all media. Unless one is familiar with the complexities of glass making, it is impossible to understand how these pieces are formed. Robert Flowers’ single, untitled goblet appears deceptively simple, if mysteriously transcendent. The delicate, feathery patterns that appear to float on his piece are the result of a 15th-century Venetian technique called merletto, a notoriously complex process that Flowers uses to create a flowing abstract pattern that is decidedly contemporary.

Ryan Kepler’s colored bottles in “Optic Bottle Pair” are also deceptively modest, but these solid, sculpted glassworks are flawlessly made, resulting in a pristine, energizing kind of perfection. Equally sleek but definitely spooky is Katie Burkett’s “Origination,” its mirrored surface and organically curved form seductive but emotionally impenetrable. Yes, glass art can be anything it wants to be, including surreal.

When the delicacy of glass is combined with mural-sized scale the results can be awesome, as Kate Clements’ ornate installation of floral designs in “Verdant” demonstrates. This piece looks as if it stepped out of a Renaissance painting, but I don’t want to know how long it took to make.

Kate Clements, Verdant, 2022, Kiln fired glass on painted panel, 100 x 83 in. (photo courtesy of the artist)

Hoseok Youn, Goldenfist and Armor set

Glass can just as easily wander off into the phantastic, as Alison Siegel and Pamela Sabroso’s “Visual Log” reminds us. Constructed from mold blown, hot sculpted, cold worked glass and sea urchin spines, Siegel and Sabroso’s art starts with “drawings and discussions,” and leads to “natural and metaphysical explorations.” Their art is deliciously alive and resolutely unpredictable.

South Korean artist Hoseok Youn juxtaposes the fragility of glass with fantastical, figurative imagery based on characters “from movies, comics and games.” He has created an entire body of work, which he has titled “BEAST” — all his characters have weapons and armor — formed from traditional stemware such as wine glasses. He also constructs the platforms and bases for his conceptualized cosmic heroes. Ultimately, he says, “the ‘BEAST’ series is the reflection of the young generation’s materialistic and conspicuous life over decorated but fragile identities and their competition for wealth.”

“Heartland 5” continues at the Belger Crane Yard Gallery, 2011 Tracy Ave., through May 6. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. First Fridays. For more information 816.474.7316 or belgerarts.org/heartland-5-exhibition.

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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