Critics’ Picks

Katherine Gray, Forest Glass (in progress), 2009, found glass, acrylic shelves, steel heights, dimensions variable.

Katherine Gray, Forest Glass (in progress), 2009, found glass, acrylic shelves, steel heights, dimensions variable.

Los Angeles

Katherine Gray

acuna-hansen gallery
427 Bernard Street
February 14–March 21, 2009

Glassblower Katherine Gray laments the devaluation of traditional craftsmanship in contemporary art. Accordingly, her two new sculptures combine a more popular found-object aesthetic with an appreciation for the unqualified loveliness of glass. Two tall columns of transparent Plexiglas shelving hold myriad secondhand drinking glasses that form glistening, unsteady minimalist towers. Most of the vessels are clear, but in the interior of each pillar, brown and green items are stacked in the shape of the trunk and leaves of a tree. Rounded and schematic like a child’s drawing, they are Platonic shapes caught in amber.

The works recall Waldglas, or forest glass, the green- and brown-tinted products of medieval Northern European factories. Located in forests, these studios were mobile environmental disasters, depleting the wood in a given area and moving on. In a neat conceptual maneuver, Gray resuscitates the lost trees in glass.

The overall effect is quite beautiful, with the glasses reminiscent of pixels or Impressionist brushstrokes. Reflections and refracted light bring the trees to shimmering life even as they reinforce their chimerical nature. But the viewer is also reminded of the pieces’ thrift-store origins—the shelves and their supports, which are quite thick, never really disappear, giving the works a retail feel. This contrast—between an evanescent beauty and solid, useful everyday objects—seems to be Gray’s point: Together, they coalesce into something both mundane and sublime.