The story of the Corning glass company actually begins in Brooklyn, steps away from Brooklyn Bridge Park at the site what is now Adam Yauch Park. There, the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company had its start in the beginning of the 19th century and developed a patent for glass window blinds. Its later owners, Amory Houghton, Sr. and Jr., were enticed to move it to upstate New York in 1868, in search of cheaper operational costs, as well as closer access to the Erie Canal. The company was renamed the Corning Flint Glass Company, and later become Corning Glass Works, and then Corning, Inc. It would be responsible for many cutting edge innovations, building Thomas Edison‘s first electric lightbulb, developing products for Pyrex, fiber for telecommunications, and flat screen displays.
In 1951, the non-profit Corning Museum of Glass opened in Corning, New York, located less than thirty minutes south of Seneca Lake, with three expansions of its original building since. With the rise of the Finger Lakes wine region, reinvigorated interest in the industrial history of upstate New York has put the Corning Museum of Glass back on the cultural tourism map. And there is no better time to visit than now, with the recent opening of the museum’s “New Glass Now” exhibition, the third iteration of New Glass, which was the first ever major museum exhibition of international contemporary glass in the world when it debuted in 1959. Glassmaking sits in a unique position within the field of art – easily straddling the spectrum between avant-garde and practical. The works feel accessible and understandable to the viewer and the potential for visitor participation in the act of making glass makes visiting a glass museum visceral and exciting. The Corning Museum of Glass, reflecting Corning’s role in technological innovation today, is a best-in-class example of a glass museum.
Photo courtesy Corning Museum of Glass
The museum is so extensive, we were told on a visit that some take a walk around the 18,000 square foot gift shop and think that constitutes the whole museum. But they would be missing out. Spread across three floors, the museum features three main areas. First, in the biomorphic 1976 extension designed by Gunner Birkerts, is a historical and geographical survey of “35 Centuries of Glass” shows extensive highlights of Corning Museum of Glass’ nearly 50,000 object collection, the world’s largest collection of glass. On display, you’ll find stained glass salvaged from a Frank Lloyd Wright house, a piece from the 1939 World’s Fair, a Tiffany’s punch bowl that retailed at $3000 in 1904 (nearly $85,000 today) and much more. The Contemporary Art & Design gallery, which you enter from the main lobby, is a 2012 expansion designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners within which the New Glass Now exhibition has been incorporated. A mezzanine level is an educational exhibition space dedicated to glass innovation and the ground floor contains an amphitheater hot shop for demonstrations, an education lab, café, and gift shop. Interspersed are two other hot shops and a separate pavilion where you can make your own glass.
Tiffany’s punch bowl set in the 35 Centuries of Glass exhibition
The amphitheater hot shop
New Glass Now is curated by the dynamic Susie J. Silbert, who we are pretty sure can get anybody excited about glass. The works included in this groundbreaking exhibition are incredibly diverse and truly fascinating. Like the two previous New Glass exhibitions from 1959 and 1979, every piece is selected in a very democratic process of selection – not all the panelists need to agree, and the exhibition placards demonstrate this by clearly showing through initials which panelists selected each work. The description of the work is a quote from one of the panelists’ assessment of the piece. Such transparency has been a key element of the New Glass exhibitions, with the aim to bring to light a process that is usually obscured to the public in museum exhibitions.
Photo courtesy Corning Museum of Glass
Susie also clearly has a point of view to bring to the table, with a mission to showcase voices that have typically been left out of the male-dominated glassmaking field. To that end, you will find some works that are not made of glass but are about glass, such as a piece entitled Blow Harder: Alternative Lexicons for the Hotshop by Suzanne Peck and Karen Donnellan that offers replacement words for the sexist and sexualized terms used in American glassmaking (Gloryhole is the standard term for the reheating chamber, for example, and a marver slut/tart is young glassmaker that is eager to learn). The work offers a neutral, feminist and high brow alternative for each word. Some works are better demonstrated through video, such as Hungarian artist Tamás Ábel’s piece Colour Therapy: Washington D.C. + Budapest which shows a glass fabricated in the LGBTQ rainbow that is reflected onto the Washington Monument in D.C. and the Millennium Monument in Ábel’s hometown of Budapest.
Colour Therapy: Washington D.C. + Budapest. Photo courtesy Tamás Ábel
The Bahá’í Temple of South America, 2016. Jeff Goodman Canada, 1961–2012, Jeff Goodman Studio, Hariri Pontarini Architects. Photo by Sebastian Wilson, courtesy Corning Museum of Glass.
Some works are too large to be displayed in their original form, such as architect Jeff Goodman’s incredibly peaceful Bahá’í Temple of South America, made of over 1,100 tiles of kiln-cast borosilicate glass, located outside Santiago, Chile. According to the architect’s website, the custom glass was created from a request for a “translucent white glass building product that could filter natural light to create a serene environment while withstanding the rigorous weather fluctuations and seismic activity notorious in the Andes mountains of Chile.”
Sharyn O’Mara’s photograph, Chandelier for the End of Times is actually a pattern of her dog’s nose prints on her glass door. Chandelier for the End of Time by Sharyn O’Mara
Some other highlights, though every piece is worth more than a moment’s contemplation: Rui Sasaki’s Liquid Sunshine/ I am a Pluviophile is a stunning commissioned work located in a darkened exhibition room tucked into the 35 Centuries of Glass exhibition. Blown glass, coming down from the ceiling like stalactites in a cave are lit with phosphorescent material and full-spectrum UV lights, slowly losing glow over time.
Rui Sasaki, Liquid Sunshine/ I am a Pluviophile . Photo courtesy Corning Museum of Glass
Norwood Vivano’s Cities Underwater uses glass to show the looming threat of sea level rise on seven American cities. At 25 feet of rise by the year 2500, we will have lost New Orleans and Norfolk completely, and 99% of Miami.
Nacho Carbonell’s El Patio is a canopied bench made of recycled beer bottles and barley paste, and sits in the middle of one of the Contemporary Art & Design rooms.
Miya Ando’s Kumo (Cloud) for Glass House is paperweight inspired by Philip Johnson’s Glass House. Silbert writes that it’s a “tangible representation of the way it feels to be in the presence of Johnson’s all-glass masterpiece.”
Helen Lee’s Alphabit is a glass cabinet of glass letters that look like letterpress letters, which “highlight the role of glass in contemporary communication, and by extension, the formulation of contemporary thought,” writes Silbert.
Deborah Czeresko’s Meat Chandelier, featuring delectable glass-versions of sausages, salamis, and pork chops grabs the eye, just adjacent to Frederik Nielsen’s hot pink graffiti installation, I was here, and Megan Stelljes, “This Shit is Bananas” with hot-sculpted bananas and pink neon words.
Photo courtesy Corning Museum of Glass
Shayna Leib’s Patisserie series will have you craving French pastries, so real the works look:
Austen Stern’s Hugged to Death, Creeps and All Wound Up, tugs at the heartstrings:
Brooklyn based artist Dustin Yellin has as enormous glass block with an incredibly detailed world of skyscrapers drowned in a futurist “theater of nature,” writes guest curator Susanne Jøker Johnsen.
David Colton has graffiti-inspired marijuana pipe, likely the first to be exhibited in a museum:
David King’s Echo encapsulates pop-colored single-use everyday plastic objects in glass, museum-ifying objects which fill our landfills:
And finally, Alicia Eggert’s All the Light You See is hard to miss, flashing between “All the light you see is from the past” and “All you see is past.”
The Corning Museum of Glass is a great stop along the Fingers Lake wine tasting trail, but allocate enough time. The average stay in the museum is an incredible 4.5 hours. New Glass Now will be on view until January 5, 2020.
Next, check out more NYC Getaways from our ongoing column and plan out your summer weekend trip itinerary!