This fall, glass -- a contemporary, hi-tech version -- had a renaissance in London. Current glassmaking techniques are dazzling, as are the prices, and the market for this specialty is flourishing in England.
Front and center is glassmaker Danny Lane -- actually an American -- who trained as a painter and lives in West London. His works transcend the common expectations of glass and truly enter the higher realm of art.
Lane creates furniture by cutting and bending structural glass then piercing it with steel. His chairs and tables are marked by an edgy brilliance -- and steep prices: a chair costs $60,000. Lane sells to private and corporate clients, and even has a string of public commissions. Most notable is his 140-pillar staircase balustrade for the Victoria & Albert Museum's comprehensive Glass Gallery.
"Lane is at the very top of the studio glass specialty," says private dealer Adrian Sassoon, who brought several examples of his work to Brian and Anna Haughton's International 20th-century Arts Fair in New York, Nov. 27-Dec. 1, 1999. Front and center were Lane's Reeling Walls, an installation of slabs of glass, some 20 feet high. American clients favored his smaller pieces, like a $12,000 Crab Bowl, which was twisted in the kiln then sandblasted. At least three commissions are under consideration since the fair.
One thing is certain, studio glass receives greater appreciation in London than anywhere else. "Triple the amount of studio glass is sold at auction in London over New York," says Phillips specialist Alexander Payne. Americans make up only 20 percent of the client base in the salesrooms.
Who's buying? "Strangely enough, it's all across the board age-wise," says dealer Sassoon. Clients range from 30 to 75 years in age. And curiously, it's the older clients who buy the more adventurous pieces.
Thirty years ago, these collectors focused on antiques. Back then, a piece of good furniture, say a George III chair, could be had for $5,000. But now that market has soared. "So, the maturity factor -- been there, done that -- comes into play and now those clients turn to glass," points out Sassoon.
Of course, part of the appeal of this area is financial, pure and simple. A museum-quality collection of studio glass can be assembled for a touch under $80,000. And though other contemporary fields like photography and prints offer buying opportunities too, those specialties encompass multiples. Studio glass offers one-of-a-kind objects.
Besides the ability to own works of real importance by major makers, what's the lure of such a fragile medium? "Glass is magic; it's made out of nowhere," explains Sassoon. It's that "precious" quality that attracts both novice and longtime collectors.
Studio glass runs the gamut stylistically from Bruno Romanelli's topical torso (it's his own, cast in glass) to Colin Reid's quiet glass geometric forms. In between are Rachel Woodman's diminutive canoe forms, which look like porcelain. Donna Karan is a huge fan of Woodman's pieces and owns more than a dozen works. The Japanese artist Keiko Mukaide works with striated and blown glass.
At Contemporary Applied Art on Percy Street in London, the most popular artists are Colin Reid and Tessa Clegg, reports gallery spokesperson Yvonne Kulagowski.
French glass artist Bernard Dejonghe treats the medium like stone and constructs Brutalist geometric forms. He shows at Galerie Bresson in the Royal Arcade off of Old Bond Street.
The work of major glass artists can be seen in the Victoria & Albert Museum Glass Gallery. This $2 million installation has no match in the states. A total of 7,000 objects are on display, beginning with Egyptian examples that date from 4000 BC. It's clear, as V&A ceramics and glass curator Oliver Watson concludes, that "the English have long been fascinated with glass."
Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL. Tel: 011 44 171 938 8500.
Galerie Besson, 15 Royal Arcade, London W1X 3HB. Tel: 011 44 171 491 1706.
Adrian Sassoon, 14 Rutland Gate, London SW7 1BB. Tel: 011 44 171 581 9888 (by appointment only).