Sculptor Sarah Sze makes a sharp turn to glass at Berengo Studio in Murano.
Adriano Berengo is having problems with Paul McCarthy’s butt-plugs. There are three of them, 12in or so tall and made entirely in blown glass, sitting on a shelf in Berengo’s modest Murano offce. The room is strewn with other odd and beguiling glass objects made for artists of the highest rank. McCarthy’s, though, are the easiest to identify.
McCarthy wants his glass butt-plugs to double as whisky bottles but the whisky isn’t pouring, it’s dribbling down the sides. Berengo has explained that to work, the plug bottle would need some kind of rim, as it were, but McCarthy will not allow a violation of the plug’s pure form. Berengo, now almost 70, with shaggy grey hair and boundless charm and energy, shrugs his shoulders. He is used to dealing with the artistic bent and if that’s what McCarthy wants, that’s what he gets.
McCarthy is one of 27 artists appearing in the fifth edition of Glasstress, an exhibition of artists’ work in glass to run during the Venice Biennale, produced by Berengo’s glass-making studio and key to his long-term mission to save Murano glass-making from extinction.
As we speak, another artist appearing in the show, the star American sculptor Sarah Sze, is scoping out the Palazzo Franchetti, a neo-Gothic pile on the Grand Canal, where most of the Glasstress works will be shown. (A major installation by the French artist Loris Gréaud, a ceiling of 1,000 or so individually blown glass clouds, is being shown in a former foundry behind Berengo’s office. Next year, Berengo hopes to convert it into a permanent museum and exhibition space.)
Sze has made her name with complex, large-scale installations using mundane found objects that often seem in a state of disintegration or coalescence, driven by forces largely unknown. Her works tackle time, memory, loss, the taxonomic urge and the distance between science and experience. ‘A piece is finished when it is right at the edge of becoming and not becoming,’ Sze says. ‘I want it to make sense and then not make sense and then make sense again. That toggling is the heightening of experience.’ Sze’s installations are also, a rare thing in conceptual art, instantly affecting and deeply moving. And the installation is everything, suggesting pathways to discovery. Elements often spill outside the ‘white cube’ and into other spaces. ‘It is always more interesting to have a conversation with the location. You can take over the space or bring attention to the details, the circulation, the behaviour, the history.’
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