As New York Citys elegant new International Style steel-and-glass towers redefined skylines around the globe, artists and designers worldwide embraced the challenge to create in a modern idiom. In the field of American glass, that idiom became synonymous with Steuben, the company that used revolutionized glass technology to translate Manhattans sophistication into the realms of industrial design and decorative arts. In autumn 2003, the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) will present the first exhibition ever to explore a remarkable chapter in the history of Americans premier glassmaker and the Modern movement itself.
Glass and Glamour: Steubens Modern Moment, 1930-1960 will open to the public on November 7, 2003, and remain on view through April 25, 2004. The exhibition marks the centennial of Steuben Glass, founded in Corning, New York, in 1903.
Glass and Glamour will feature almost 200 objects, including more than 170 rare and iconic crystal pieces from major American and European museums and private collections, along with original drawings, books, and catalogs from the time of the Great Depression and World War II, as well as the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s the celebrated era of an optimistic Pax Americana, when postwar prosperity thrust New York City and the United States into an international spotlight and modern design came to symbolize the nations new political and technological prowess. Glass and Glamour focuses upon the years when Steuben Glass dazzled the American public with a futuristic pavilion at the 1939 Worlds Fair and conducted business in two important modernist buildings commissioned by its parent company Corning for Fifth Avenue, including Wallace Harrisons sleek 1959 Corning Glass Building (then Manhattans tallest glass-clad skyscraper). During these years, the company mounted sensation-causing exhibitions of works in crystal by leading contemporary artists, including the 1940 series Twenty-seven Artists in Crystal proposed by Henri Matisse; received the endorsement of such celebrities as Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers, and Jacqueline Kennedy; and produced hundreds of extraordinary designs, ranging from luxurious tableware and home items to purely sculptural and decorative works, all redolent of Americas optimism and flair.
Glass and Glamour tells the story of a time in the middle decades of the twentieth century when the modernist aesthetic seemed to offer a glimpse into a utopian future, when New Yorks glamour was a metaphor for all things modern, and when glass became a medium of choice to express the vision of the avant garde in architecture and design, said Susan Henshaw Jones, Director of the Museum of the City of New York. This exhibition extends the Museums tradition of exploring the past, present, and future of New York City as a cultural capital and center of remarkable creative achievement. We welcome the opportunity to showcase the art and artistry of Steuben, a company whose designs have long been associated with the allure of Manhattan.
Glass and Glamour has been organized by independent curator Donald Albrecht, in co-ordination with the Museum of the City of New York. Mr. Albrecht serves as exhibitions curator for the Smithsonians Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and has curated major exhibitions for the National Building Museum and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Exhibition direction has been provided by Sarah Henry, Deputy Director for Programs, MCNY; Deborah
Dependahl Waters, Head of Collections and Exhibitions, MCNY; and Peter Drobny, Exhibitry Development, Corning Museum of Glass. The installation for Glass and Glamour has been designed by architect John Keenen of Keenen/Riley, New York, with lighting design by Anita Jorgensen, and graphic design by J. Abbott Miller of Pentagram.
Glass and Glamour: Steubens Modern Moment 1930-1960 is made possible through the generous support of Corning Incorporated.
Highlights of Glass and Glamour will include objects rarely seen by the public. Among these are functional pieces conceived for Steuben by celebrated industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague and included in the landmark 1934 Museum of Modern Art exhibition Machine Art, curated by architect Philip Johnson. Glass and Glamour will also present important designs from Steubens 1939 Worlds Fair pavilion, including George Thompsons large-scale blown Galapagos Bowl and John Dreves Olive Dish. Selections from Twenty-seven Artists in Crystal, including engraved works by Henri Matisse, Isamu Noguchi, Georgia OKeeffe, Grant Wood, Pavel Tchelitchew, Paul Manship, Giorgio di Chirico and others have been gathered for the exhibition, as have key examples from such later series as British Artists in Crystal (1954) and Asian Artists in Crystal (1956). Don Wiers Star Plates, a 1960 series of twelve celestial engraved works based upon the zodiac, have been loaned to the exhibiti on from a leading private collection. Steuben designer George Thompsons monumental Cascade Wall a ten-foot-square architectural screen of 300 interlocking crystal flowers with bronze stamen will enjoy a special New York City homecoming: The piece was originally created in 1959 as a central feature for the Steuben store at 717 Fifth Avenue at 56th Street.
Glass and Glamour will also present an extensive array of the functional pieces pitchers, vases and urns, punchbowls, candlesticks, drinking glasses, smoking accessories, martini sets, centerpieces, cruets and jam jars, serving dishes and other signifiers of good living conceived by Steubens design staff between the years of 1930 and 1960. Initially inspired by the restraint and simplicity of 1930s Swedish glass, these beautiful artifacts illustrate how Steuben designers ultimately created a signature style characterized by weight and volume, adhering to the same architectural principles of balance, proportion, profile, and scale that characterized Manhattan buildings of the era. Consistent with the Modernist ethos of truth to materials, many Steuben Glass objects took on the naturally curvaceous shapes formed by hot, molten glass.
According to curator Donald Albrecht, In the versatile hands of highly skilled designers and artisans, Steuben glass was fashioned in a range of styles, from streamlined olive dishes to fanciful colonial revival pitchers, neoclassical centerpieces, and cigarette boxes with Bauhaus purity. Steubens stylistic variety was a physical manifestation of the malleability of glass itself, yet its repertoire was rendered new and modern by the crystalline clarity of the companys unique glass a technological achievement that was invented in the optimistic mood of the mid-twentieth century.
Steuben Glass was founded in upstate New York in 1903 by iconoclastic English glassmaker Frederick Carder, who served as the companys director and chief designer for thirty years, producing more than 80,000 designs and introducing innovations in glass formulas and aesthetics. The companys modern era began in 1933, however, when Arthur Amory Houghton, Jr., a 27-year-old Harvard graduate and member of the family that controlled Corning Glass, decided to catapult its financially failing Steuben Glass division into the realm of Modern design. His timing was perfect. Like other innovators who adopted the new ideas of Modernism as a way to combat falling sales in the Depression (such as furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, Inc., which revitalized itself through collaboration with Ray and Charles Eames), Houghton not only reinvented his company but also launched a new chapter in twentieth-century design history.
"Knowing we had skilled craftsmen...and a really beautiful composition for crystal," Houghton said he realized that "the needed elements were design and also how to sell the product." To achieve his vision to create "the best crystal the world had ever known," Houghton hired New York City-based architect John Monteith Gates as managing director and noted sculptor Sidney Waugh as chief designer. For more than three decades, the dynamic triumvirate of Houghton, Gates, and Waugh recreated Steuben in a progressive corporate mode, shepherding their product through the multiple lenses of design, manufacturing, distribution, promotion, and function. Like Herman Millers furniture, Steubens glassware was presented to the public in custom-designed shops, many prestigious museum exhibitions, and sophisticated advertising campaigns and books.
Steuben Glass still operates today, producing designs by hand in its studio in upstate New York.
Publication and Museum Info
In conjunction with the exhibition, the New York City-based publishing house Harry N. Abrams, Inc. is publishing Glass and Glamour: Steubens Modern Moment, 1930-1960, an evocative overview of the period in Steubens history explored by the exhibition. The 96-page book features 70 illustrations and plates, and an introduction by Donald Albrecht.
The Museum of the City of New York embraces the past, present, and future of New York City and celebrates its cultural diversity. It serves the people of New York through exhibitions, educational programs, and publications, and through its extraordinary collection of over 1.4 million objects that reflect the citys remarkable history.
The Museum of the City of New York is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 10AM to 5PM, and on Sunday from 12PM until 5PM. Suggested admission contributions are $7 for adults; $4 for senior citizens, students and children; and $12 for families. For additional information about the Museum of the City of New York, including programs, guided tours, special events, and directions to the Museum, please visit www.mcny.org or telephone 212/534.1672 ext. 207.