L_1-6f8515e5-0dcc

Glasstress 2019, Installation Image, © Nikola Grozdanov

Returning for the 58th Biennale di Venezia, the sixth edition of GLASSTRESS brings together a new line-up of leading contemporary artists from Europe, the United States, Latin America, India, and China in an ambitious exhibition exploring the endless creative possibilities of glass. 

GLASSTRESS is a project by Adriano Berengo dedicated to supporting his mission of marrying contemporary art and glass. Since its debut in 2009, GLASSTRESS has revived the traditional craft of Murano glassblowing by forging new alliances with internationally renowned artists and designers. With little or no prior experience working with glass, these artists have embraced the challenge of creating extraordinary works in cooperation with Muranese maestri. The output of this unusual encounter defies the stereotypes associated with this ancient artistry, ultimately pushing the boundaries of both contemporary art and glass. 

To celebrate 10 years of GLASSTRESS and 30 years of Berengo Studio, the exhibition goes back to its historical roots on the island of Murano. An old abandoned glass furnace is now an evocative exhibition space for striking new works and installations by returning artists Ai Weiwei, Laure Prouvost, Tony Cragg and Thomas Schütte as well as first time participants Prune Nourry, José Parlá and Rose Wylie, amongst others. For this section, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz has invited all artists to explore ‘how glass redefines our perception of space’.

Glasstress 2019, Installation Image, Ai Wei Wei, © Francesco Allegretto

Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective in Glass, 2018. Glass Installation of 12 elements, 3.5 x 200 x 20 cm. Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio and Berengo Studio © Francesco Allegretto

L_8-86920b02-2814

Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective in Glass (detail), 2018. Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio and Berengo Studio

L_5-6aa8ffda-e4ab

Laure Prouvost, Hard Connections, 2019 Glass, Variable dimensions. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio © Francesco Allegretto.

Tony Cragg, The Bridge, photo Francesco Allegretto (2)

Tony Cragg, The Bridge, 2018. Size 92 x 16 x h 30 cm. Photo Credit Francesco Allegretto. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio.

L_4-899a351b-b50d

Rose Wylie, Things that Fly and Beatles, 2019. Glass, Variable dimensions (installation). Courtesy the artist, Berengo Studio and David Zwirner Gallery © Francesco Allegretto

Rose Wylie, Things that Fly and Beatles (detail), 2019, Glass, © Francesco Allegretto

Rose Wylie, Things that Fly and Beatles (detail), 2019, Glass, © Francesco Allegretto Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio.

In another section, curated by Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen, highlights from the past ten years will also go on display, including Mutter (2016/17) by Erwin Wurm, a series of sculptures exploring the equilibrium between everyday objects and their meaning; Laura’s Hands (2011), a piece by Jaume Plensa referencing the artist’s ongoing series of giant sculptures of a Barcelonan girl in a state of dreaming; and A Different Self (2014) by Mat Collishaw which combines the unique form of a Venetian mirror with a digital screen to evoke reflections from the past. Referring to the making of glass works, Vanmechelen says: ‘the world of the unknown and unseen becomes visible and tangible through beautiful accidents in time.’ A special project by Robert Wilson, curated by Jean Blanchaert will also feature as part of the exhibition. 

L_3-7d6d7a74-205f

Erwin Wurm, Various works. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio © Francesco Allegretto.

Jaume Plensa, Laura’s Hands, 2011, © Francesco Allegretto

Jaume Plensa, Laura’s Hands, 2011 © Francesco Allegretto.

Mat Collishaw, A Different Self, 2014 © Francesco Allegretto

Mat Collishaw, A Different Self, 2014 © Francesco Allegretto.

Koen Vanmechelen Black Medusa, 2015 © Francesco Allegretto

Koen Vanmechelen, Black Medusa, 2015 © Francesco Allegretto

NEW WORKS AT GLASSTRESS 2019 

Many of the artists in the exhibition produced pieces which engage with pertinent environmental concerns and man’s relationship to nature. These include Bricolante by French - Argentine artist Pablo Reinoso, a life-size sculpture which references the wooden poles (‘bricole’ in the Venetian dialect) that line the channels of the city and its lagoon. Reinoso views these poles as a strong visual identifier of the city which, when translated into glass, echoes its fragility and the ecological threats it faces. 

Similar issues are addressed in the work of Brazilian sculptor Valeska Soares, titled Acqua Alta after the yearly flooding of the city, comprising a series of glass containers which refer to the pollution of manmade objects as well as to vessels used to carry water. Acqua Alta acknowledges water as a precious natural resource, susceptible to the forces of nature and highlights the tensions between excess and decay. 

Valeska Soares, Acqua Alta, photo credit Francesco Allegretto (1)

Valeska Soares, Acqua Alta. Photo Credit Francesco Allegretto. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio

Valeska Soares, Acqua Alta, photo credit Francesco Allegretto (3)

Valeska Soares, Acqua Alta. Photo Credit Francesco Allegretto. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio

New-York based, French artist Prune Nourry has created a sculpture inspired by an anatomical drawing of the human vascular system. Symbolising our inherent connection to nature, the glass veins and arteries which make up its structure resemble both a system of rivers and streams as seen from above, and the sprawling branches of a tree – two elements essential to our survival but which are suffering under the strain of environmental damage. 

Socio-political topics are the focus of several works this year including Tiempos Frágiles (Fragile Times) by American artist José Parlá. Inspired by recent tumultuous political events in the US, the piece is composed of a metal fence, glass barbwire and parts of ribbons made from Murano glass which spell out the word ‘Fragile’. For Parlá, the contrast presented in glass, a material that is both delicate and dangerously sharp, is a metaphor for the polaric state of the world. Tiempos Frágiles emphasises the very fragility of humanity in its current state of existence and the human-made divisions imposed by borders. 

José Parlá, Tiempos Frágiles, credit Francesco Allegretto (3)

José Parlá, Tiempos Frágiles (Fragile Times). Photo credit Francesco Allegretto. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio.

L_9-515567d5-1c63

José Parlá, Tiempos Frágiles (Fragile Times). Photo credit Francesco Allegretto. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio

Italian artist, Monica Bonvicini’s sculpture In My Hand references her piece, A Choir of Five (2016), during which a group of female performers produced clacking sounds using leather belts. In My Hand depicts female hands firmly holding a belt bent in half, as if it were ready to deliver a strike. Nevertheless, the violent move is frozen in glass, representing the struggle against cultural symbols of masculinity, discipline and violence.

Other artists, such as Vik Muniz, have used conventional craftsmanship methods in unexpected and innovative ways. Known for incorporating mundane and everyday objects into his photographic collages and mosaics, Muniz has appropriated a centuries-old decorating technique to produce a hyper-realistic self-portrait made completely with Murrine - colourful glass patterns, traditionally used to ornament blown glass works. 

Vik Muniz (Murrine), 2019 ©Alessio Buldrin (2)

Vik Muniz, (Murrine), 2019. Photo Credit: Alessio Buldrin. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio.

Vik Muniz, Mina (Murrine), 2019 - (c) Alessio Buldrin

Vik Muniz, Mina (Murrine), 2019 © Alessio Buldrin. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio.

Reflecting on his collaboration with Berengo, Vik Muniz says: ‘The idea of transforming Murano by breathing life into the creative craft of glassworks brings a new vision of what glass can be and do. GLASSTRESS speaks about tradition, about the history of the city and what was done here centuries ago. It’s a very interesting way not only to see how the city has adapted to its context as a contemporary art capital but also how it managed to still retain a lot of its own soul.’

9 MAY - 24 NOVEMBER 2019 Fondazione Berengo Art Space Campiello Della Pescheria, Fondamenta dei Vetrai, Murano

L_10-dba00b7c-e743

Denise Milan, Earth Banquet, photo credit Sergio Coimbra. Courtesy the artist and Berengo Studio