Libretto in Glass

Lino Tagliapietra working last year in the Museum of Glass hot shop in Tacoma, Wash.

CAPTION: Lino Tagliapietra working last year in the Museum of Glass hot shop in Tacoma, Wash. COURTESY MUSEUM OF GLASS

Solo exhibitions by studio glass artists over the years at Palm Springs Art Museum — and the addition of the institution’s Kaplan/Ostergaard Glass Center — have offered a kaleidoscopic view of works by top practitioners in the glass-blowing genre famously espoused by the Pilchuck School of Glass near Seattle, Wash. Dale Chihuly, William Morris, and a who’s who of studio glass artists have studied and taught there.

And they all revere Lino Tagliapietra, widely considered the school’s most influential artist and teacher. A celebration of the 75-year-old Italian maestro’s work and impact on studio glass has come to the desert in Lino Tagliapietra In Retrospect: A Modern Renaissance in Italian Glass, an exhibition continuing through Dec. 27 at Palm Springs Art Museum.

Tagliapietra, a native of Murano Island in the Venice Lagoon, first encountered glass blowing as a 6-year-old playing soccer on a street adjacent to the factory Artisti Vetrai Muranese. By the time he was 11, he had begun an apprenticeship under Archimede Seguso. His training — and his view of glassmaking — has roots to the immigration of Byzantine artisans to Italy in 1204. The art of glass was significant in the Renaissance, and Venice — a trade center — emerged as the epicenter for glassmaking. Venetian glass gained worldwide interest. Tagliapietra, considered a maestro by 21, began looking at the craft as an art, infusing the thought processes of a painter.

He made his first visit to Pilchuck in 1979 and, over time, influenced a transformation of studio glass art in the United States, becoming a revered teacher who freely shared trade secrets of Venetian glass blowing. He revolutionized how artists work in the medium. Chihuly called Tagliapietra “the greatest glass blower in the world.”

During the Venice Biennale, which ends this month, Tagliapietra was included in … fa come natura face in foco, an exhibition dedicated to artists working in glass at the Padiglione Venezia. “I’m very proud of this,” he says. For 40 years, the Padiglione Venezia has been the premier venue for the research and practice of the major glass artists.

Speaking from his home in Italy, a humble Tagliapietra gives much credit to collaborators and designers who inspired him to stretch creatively. They “pushed to me in different ways,” he says. “Different culture, attitudes, a different way to work with the material.” What fired him up most was the passion and energy of the Pilchuck community. “I have a very good response from the students. The people there were very energetic.

“I love to discover new technique,” he continues. “I think a lot. Every day I have a new idea.”

Likewise, he exudes enthusiasm for the growing interest in studio glass in the United States. “The U.S. is more advanced than everybody else,” he says. “I think it’s wonderful. For example, I’m super proud when a collector who never buys glass [places my piece with a] Chagall or a Brancusi.”

Back in Palm Springs, Lino Tagliapietra In Retrospect curator Susanne K. Frantz has divided the exhibition into two parts: the artist’s career encompassing his work for other artists and designers, followed by his work from 1990 to the present.

The exhibition book includes texts by Frantz, German curator Helmut Ricke, and artist Dante Marioni — offering a trenchant biographical portrait, as well as sharp insight into Tagliapietra’s reverberating impact on studio glass worldwide. In his essay, Marioni wrote that American artists never would have gained their level of skill and innovation without Tagliapietra’s selfless teaching.

The work in Lino Tagliapietra In Retrospect — glass vessels, sculptures, and installations (such as Endeavor, suspended boat vessels inspired by the Vikings and canoes of Amazon people) transcend their craft with the myriad techniques he brings to the art-making process: blowing, carving, layering, casing, and caning. The genre has its own vernacular, explained simply in wall statements accompanying the works on exhibit, as well as in the exhibition book.

For the viewer, the scope of the exhibition reflects the bright inventiveness and daring nature of the artist’s masterful use of color and texture in works ranging from goblets to the Saturnos, Hopis, and installation pieces.

Organized by the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., the exhibition traveled to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., before its final stop in Palm Springs.


Lino Tagliapietra will appear twice at Palm Springs Art Museum:

* Nov. 3 lecture (museum members only)

*  Dec. 1 panel discussion with collector Rebecca Benaroya, curator Susanne Frantz, and an individual from Pilchuck Glass School. Program begins at 10:30 a.m. Admission: $10. Optional luncheon with the panelists following the exhibition tour: $75.

Other events during the exhibition:

*  Oct. 11 and 15 performances, “Reflections of Lino,” featuring four dancers from Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company at 2 p.m. Admission: free.

*  Nov. 14-15 Mobile Hot Shop, an interactive glass-blowing demonstration

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