The Detroit Institute of Arts Presents a Murano Glass Exhibition

Over 200 amazing glass artworks, from the red hot furnaces on the island of Murano, will illuminate the galleries of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in the very cool exhibition Murano: Glass from the Olnick Spanu Collection.

Murano glass is prized for contemporary elegance, radical design and extraordinary craftsmanship, and these stunning works are considered among the finest examples in the world. The exhibition will be on view from Dec. 12, 2004 to Feb. 27, 2005.

Drawn exclusively from the collection of Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu and curated by Venetian-born glass scholar and historian Marino Barovier, the North American tour of the exhibition offers a comprehensive look at works from 1914 to 2002 by the most highly regarded artists and designers from the Murano workshops. Pieces from the early-to mid-1900s by artists including Carlo Scarpa, Thomas Stearn, Paolo Venini and Vittorio Zecchin will be on view along with contemporary works by such artists as Cristiano Bianchin, Laura Diaz de Santillana, Lino Tagliapietra and Giorgio Vigna. This juxtaposition will provide an understanding of the evolution of the art of glassmaking in Murano.

Exclusively in Detroit, the exhibition will be supplemented with Detroit Collects Murano Glass, an exhibition of approximately 20 objects of Murano glass from local collectors. Included are several pieces of vintage Murano glass from the 1950s and 60s with works from noted artist Fulvio Bianconi, as well as works from contemporary artists such as Yoichi Ohira.

“Over the past two decades, glass has become a focus of collecting in the United States generally, but nowhere more so than in the Detroit area,” said Graham W. J. Beal, director of the DIA. “Presenting such a distinctive collection as Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu’s at the DIA has a particular resonance as is demonstrated by the group of related pieces from local collections.”

Murano glass is prized for both its superb design and technical innovation, which result from a collaboration between designers and master glassworkers. The designer chooses shapes, colors and textures and visualizes unique objects. After completing drawings for a proposed new style, the designer joins the glassworker in the factory to make a prototype. A successful piece relies on the designer’s collaboration with the master glassworker, who understands the glassmaking technique and the inherent physical properties of glass.


Murano, a small island near Venice, became the center of glassmaking in 1291. With access to abundant raw materials, glass production in Murano flourished, enjoying worldwide dominance until the 1400s, when the artisans’ glass recipes became known in other parts of Europe.

During the 1850s, new glass furnaces opened on the island and soon thereafter, the Glass Museum of Murano was established as a school of design. Examples of historic glassware became study models that inspired glassmakers to reclaim once-famous styles and techniques. By 1910, progressive artists and designers of international fame challenged traditional styles and began to work with the glassmakers in Murano. The lively interaction between artists and craftsmen nurtured an inventive spirit that developed and revitalized the industry.

Exhibition Design

Massimo and Lella Vignelli and David Law of Vignelli and Associates are responsible for the design of the exhibition and its graphic identity. Vignelli Associates in conjunction with the DIA’s design staff are also facilitating the layout and design of the exhibition’s gallery space. In addition to design, Massimo Vignelli has received international respect for his esteemed glassmaking skills and is a featured artist in the exhibition. His pieces Fungo and Vetro e argento, were created while he worked for Murano’s most prominent glass workshop, Venini and Company. Vignelli’s design practice has also received acclaim in areas such as product design, furniture design, interior design and package design.

The Collectors: Nancy Olnick & Giorgio Spanu

New York collectors Olnick and Spanu started acquiring glass in the 1980s, with their first purchase, Clessidre, a green and blue hourglass vase designed by Paolo Venini. Since then, the Olnick Spanu collection of 20th century Murano glass has grown to almost 500 objects. Although both collectors look for different elements that attract them to specific pieces, they have developed a highly focused collection consisting mostly of vessels.


Tickets are: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 5–17, $8 for groups of 20+, and free for DIA members. Tickets include an Acoustiguide audio tour and museum admission. Sales begin Dec. 12 for the general public, Nov. 10 for DIA members, and Oct. 1 for groups. To order, visit the DIA Box Office in the Woodward lobby of the DIA, or log on to

Murano Museum Shop

In addition to the museum’s regular shop, a special Murano shop will be set up with jewelry, decorative arts, reproductions, books and toys representing Murano glass and its color and form. A 312-page catalogue, edited by Susan Sacks and photographed by Luca Vignelli is available in soft cover for $45.

Exhibition Information

This exhibition was circulated by Exhibitions International, New York and sponsored by Venini USA. In Detroit, additional support is provided by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the City of Detroit.

This exhibition has traveled to the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington and will move on to the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, Charlotte, North Carolina and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee, after its run at the DIA.

Located in the heart of Detroit's Cultural Center, the DIA is owned by the City of Detroit and is recognized as one of the country's premier art museums. From the first van Gogh to enter a U.S. museum (Self Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals, the DIA's collection reveals the scope and depth of human experience, imagination and emotion. Visit online at

Museum hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

600450 The Detroit Institute of Arts Presents a Murano Glass Exhibition
Date: 2 November 2004

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