Museum of Glass can be appreciated inside, out

July 7, 2002 

There are two Museums of Glass: International Centers for Contemporary Art - outdoor and indoor.

Outdoors is the older, quieter, more beautiful sister.

Spunky and full of ideas, her indoor sibling runs around with a tougher crowd and is still figuring out who she wants to be.

How she matures and how the world treats her delicate sister will be the talk of the neighborhood over the coming years. This column is my contribution to the chatter.

There are five art installations - basically sculptures built for a particular spot - outdoors. If you park along Pacific Avenue and cross the Chihuly Bridge of Glass to get to the museum, you'll see Buster Simpson's elegant row of leaning glass panes first.

Four of the installations, including the glass panes, are supposed to be torn down after a year, but the museum board likes Simpson's piece so well it may ask him if it can keep it, according to vice chairman Phil Phibbs.

That would be terrific. The piece just belongs.

Below it on the middle plaza are Mildred Howard's red glass house at the edge of a pool with 700 floating glass apples and a smaller house and passageway by juvenile inmates at Remann Hall. My first thought was, "Too many houses." The proximity is unfortunate.

But they are discrete, full experiences. You'll see.

On the lower level are Patrick Dougherty's mighty stick sculptures - several pitchers and vessels passing across a pool of water like a tornado in slow motion.

These are incredible. Gorgeous. A guy in a leather jacket, smoking a cigarette, passed by these with two buddies on the night of July 4 and spat out, "That is ... cool."

Nearby is the permanent, city-owned "Water Forest" by Howard Ben Tré. With water filling tubes and spilling over, sent by a complex circulation system and lit by fiber optics at night, the effectiveness of this piece relies on mechanics. When it works, it works.

These outdoor areas are a tremendous gift of contemplative space. They're open all hours and free of charge.

But if vandals attack them, the museum will gate them off afterhours, which would ruin the whole free feeling of the place.

To get inside will run you 8 bucks. You're paying to see the working hot shop, galleries and a theater.

The galleries feel small, squat and cramped. The sublime works of Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova, stuffed inside, don't get the attention they deserve. A large exhibition of works - some quite refreshingly unexpected - by John Cage, Mark Tobey and Morris Graves has the same overpopulation problem.

Gregory Barsamian's spectacular strobe-lit animation sculpture, which needs total darkness, sits in a small area with unfortunate ambient light.

Next to the gallery is an oversized theater. Drama is a hard sell in an art museum, and empty seats are a heartbreaker. I could barely concentrate on the well-thought-out sketch I saw during the press preview because I was so self-conscious about being one of a five-member audience in a 180-seat theater.

Across the Grand Hall is the hot shop, the literal and figurative antithesis to the gallery's chill.

The Beatles blasted from the sound system during the opening gala on Wednesday night as Chihuly's team of booted tough guys in sunglasses played with fire. This is where glass will shatter and guys will get burned. It's the Indy 500 to the galleries' Sunday drive. It's what you paid $8 for, probably, and it's glorious.

I haven't quite figured out how to have the kind of coherent experience I expect from a museum inside this one. It's a cross between the Experience Music Project and the Tacoma Art Museum.

That will probably help it for a while - you can't dismiss it because - ugh, boring - you're not in the mood for the hush-hush of a museum.

But, ultimately, the best thing that could happen is that the fiery hot shop ignites excitement in the galleries, and the galleries calm spectators into a deeper appreciation for the precariousness, skill and magic of the hot shop. I'd also like to see the genuine connection between theater and art revealed - to at least 100 people at a time.

The good news is you don't have to take my word for this stuff. These are your new neighbors. Meet the family. See who you like. Remember that they're still young. And remember: They built the house that's going to change the block forever.

Jen Graves: 253-597-8568

jen.graves@mail.tribnet.com

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