Next I'd like to discuss the work of Micheal Schunke of Nine Iron Studios in Pennsylvania. He does some brilliant work with glass in many areas of design, but it was his goblets that really drew me into his booth.
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--All Nine Iron photos courtesy Vogel Imaging.
I love these for one of the same reasons I love Denis Collura's work so much: they're a combination of so many different stylistic elements. Schunke, it would seem, is pulling from the mid- to late-nineteenth century, as well as the early-teens of the twentieth, and something of the 1960s, amongst other things. All these references are then combined together to produce something quite familiar, but very new and vibrant at the same time.
But I'd like to explain my admiration in a different way. This glassware is not cheap. It's all completely hand-blown. Even if you were to order a set of eight identical pieces, it'd be perfectly clear they were created by hand, much to their benefit, in my opinion.
I think this is a great demonstration of the shift in my tastes in the past ten years. I often hear the grumblings about some of the new, more modern productions at the Metropolitan Opera. The elderly, mostly conservative audience there is no-no-notorious for adamantly booing anything even remotely innovative. This is not to say I don't fully bow down to the genius of Franco Zeffirelli, quite the contrary. But the more recent one that most particularly comes to mind is Bartlett Sher's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
You know I love minimalism. As I've said elsewhere, three of my favorite artists of all time are Barnett Newman, Robert Ryman, and Donald Judd. But this isn't the mid-twentieth century anymore. If you're going to spend $500 on a ticket to see an opera, you deserve to expect more than a white scrim and some flower petals spread around on the stage. My argument is this: YES, by all means do new, inventive, modern productions (as long as they don't contradict the sensibility of the show, of course), push the boundaries of our perception of production design.
But this is the Met, the greatest opera house on the planet: give us something spectacular. Give us something that we could never see anywhere else. Give us something no avant-garde theater group would ever be able to manage. Give us a production of Wagner's Ring Cycle so incredible that it requires the installation of steel beams under the stage's wing so it won't collapse.
This is what I appreciate about Schunke's work. Sure, it isn't priced for Pottery Barn, but it's worth it and it shows. You don't have to be a glass artisan to look at these pieces and see the intense craftsmanship required to make them.
Don't get me wrong, for years I've had exquisitely minimalist wine glasses. Not cheap: one flick of your fingernail and the beautiful song that would result made it immediately apparent this was high-quality glassware. But what about showmanship? Must respectable quality always depend upon sober restraint? Should we really allow strict asceticism to control our embrace of artistic expression and sense of style? And while the Lobmeyr exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt made me gush with enthusiasm, why does technical, material sophistication need to be invisible?
Schunke's work is refreshingly not mute. It has character by the truckload.
Now certainly one could choose a style one prefers and get a matching dozen. But I think this misses the point, and in fact, Schunke recommends his clients against it. Instead, the myriad textures of a varied set in one color combination would make for a truly intriguing table.
This was the way they were displayed at the booth, all the different shapes and sizes and textures jumbled together. And yet, the cohesiveness of the group was as plain as day. As an added bonus, it'd be impossible for any guest to mistake his or her glass for anyone else's.
©2010, Ryan Witte