Dorothy Shinn

Lovers of beautiful glass sculpture will be in for a treat over the next six months, because the Akron Art Museum is showing works by two outstanding artists.

Brent Kee Young, who teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Sungsoo Kim, who teaches at Kent State University School of Art, have each developed new, highly individual and divergent techniques that push the boundaries of glass sculpture.

New Artifacts: Works by Brent Kee Young and Sungsoo Kim will be on view at the museum through April 7.

Although both artists share an interest in building up large forms from smaller parts, they have independently developed and expanded new techniques and the creative potential of materials more commonly found in an industrial environment than an artist’s studio.

Because of their interest in innovation, they are ideally suited to be the museum’s choice for participation in the 50th anniversary of the studio glass movement in the United States, currently being celebrated in museums large and small throughout the country.

Before the studio glass movement began, glass production was largely confined to factories where designers dictated the forms and vessels that glassblowers or technicians created — even the most elaborate — and produced in mass quantities.

The studio glass movement, which began at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1962 with two workshops led by ceramist Harvey Littleton and industrial glass researcher Dominick Labino, explored the possibility of building private glass studios where they could create unique works of art.

With artists from Venice, Italy, and the Czech Republic sharing their expertise (sometimes at extreme personal risk; artists faced death threats from their guilds for revealing secrets), the American studio glass movement grew into a global revolution in creative uses and development of the material.

Young, professor and head of the glass department at the Cleveland Institute of Art, uses borosilicate glass, which is used in Pyrex dishware, in his pioneering flamework technique of building large sculptural pieces from small glass rods.

The largest work in the series, Cubism, Contiguous Lineage … Interrupted, reveals Young’s ongoing interest in geometry.

Originally intent on being an engineer, Young first switched to ceramics, then glassmaking as being both more interesting and challenging in the creation of new forms.

Thus, construction principles loom large in his process, which starts with a basic frame that’s eventually supported by an elaborate network of flameworked glass rods.

His inspiration for these forms came from tree roots shaken free of dirt and the “rat’s nest of rebar” left over from the demolition of a factory near his studio.

He begins by using a torch to fuse glass rods into a “T” shape, continues until he has a form that will sit upright on its own, then he adds the network of shaped rods, which both connect and support the structure.

In a nod to the origins of the studio glass movement, Young has made a variety of vessel shapes that can never be used as containers.

And in a nod to his Asian heritage, he has created Portal of the Gods … A Diptych, which he said is meant to resemble a Chinese coin, although to others it may also resemble a split, deflated tire.

Kim, an adjunct professor at Kent State and Cleveland Institute of Art, and one of the first generation of Korean glass artists, uses the kiln casting process to transform discarded Styrofoam into sculpture. Says Kim, “I try to find something concealed in it.”

As we look at Kim’s work, we can recognize the foam packing substrates from which the work takes its inspiration.

By using throwaway material as inspiration for his works, Kim follows the contemporary art tradition, first proposed by Marcel Duchamp in the early 20th century, of using found objects as inspiration or as the art works themselves. These works then remind us of their source and their status as disposable materials and waste products.

Kim has also created two wall pieces, one in opaque black and white, the other in translucent blues, with one red piece.

This latter piece, Rediscovery 2012-50-1 (2012) consists of 50 individual pieces in celebration of 50 years of studio glass. The lone red object represents himself, Kim said, adding that he placed himself “not too high and not too low” in the studio art glass hierarchy.

It’s a stunning show, with the lighting making wonderful shadows and in effect creating additional forms, and the material itself is, of course, magical.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or dtgshinn@att.net.