Wake up, world – Tacoma has a new international glass art collection.
We’re not talking about the Museum of Glass, either. Thanks to the Hotel Murano, Tacomans and visitors can walk around, behind and underneath 47 works by the world’s finest glass artists, displayed dynamically and thoughtfully, and free of charge. The former Sheraton Tacoma Hotel is more than just the world’s first glass-themed hotel. It’s an impressive survey of glass art that takes Tacoma’s reputation for glass onto a completely different plane.
The Murano – named after Venice’s famous glassblowing island – is the latest in a line of themed luxury hotels owned by Provenance Hotels, among them Seattle’s Hotel Max, with emphasis on local artists, and Portland’s Hotel Lucia, showcasing local photographer David Kennerly’s work. Neither of these, however, approach the Murano in sheer scale of international artistic breadth. It’s taken freelance curator Tessa Papas, who’s worked for Provenance on five other hotels, nearly two years of traveling the world, sourcing art and bringing it to Tacoma. Now the job’s nearly done.
A WHO’S WHO OF GLASS
At press time, all but a few works were in place, and the hotel was set for its Friday informal opening, a dual fundraiser for Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass.
Not that the Murano’s collection is a replacement for the extensive, considered curating that museums offer. The 42-member artist roster might be A-list, but there’s mostly just one work from each one. There are occasional sketches or prints, and photographs of the artist at work, but the effect is more atmospheric than educational. And Papas, of course, hasn’t exactly had a blank gallery to work with: Most of the works in the public lobby area fill awkward spaces and jostle with mundane objects, such as lounge chairs and bar stools.
Yet as a who’s who of glass, and an introduction to glass technique and style, it rivals many institutions.
The most obvious work is right outside the main entrance. After some installation setbacks, Costas Varotsos’ “Orizon” now stands tall on the glittery, silica-spattered sidewalk. It’s an arching curve of steel 104 feet high, bolted to the 26-story hotel building and filled with horizontal panes of clear plate glass. The stacked panes create an intense, greenish-blue opacity, and the front walls of the lobby are filled in the same way, which transforms a fascinating play of light from the street outside. Soon to be owned by the City of Tacoma, for a nominal fee of $110,000 – the Murano donated its $700,000 installation cost and Varotsos waived his artist fee – “Orizon” is just the kind of big-statement, elegant public art the city needs. Yet its height is dwarfed by the hotel tower, reducing art to a murmur in the face of high-end capitalism.
MIX AND MATCH
Inside the lobby, though, glass takes precedence. It’s everywhere, from fancy restroom signs to pink surface lights around the bar, and glass art is hung in both obvious and unexpected ways. Overhead sail three huge “Viking Boats” by Denmark’s Vibeke Skov, suspended by cables, and each crafted meticulously from curved glass panels to represent Norse gods, goddesses and humans. The colors are vibrant, the design a striking mix of square angles, watery curves and an almost indigenous style of line. (Woodcuts of the designs hang in the restrooms downstairs, almost shockingly powerful.)
Beneath the boats, the grand corridor is lined with an odd mix of two-dimensional works. Among them, Alison Kinnaird’s five-part panel “Interface” narrates relationship through engraved silhouettes, while “Jacob’s Wedding,” by Pat Owens, is a Hieronymus Bosch-like chaos of weird lamp-worked figures with pin-heads and green skin, cavorting gleefully.
Near the reception, which is fronted by a stunning neon-striped panel by Orfeo Quagliata, a headless dress of cast glass by Karen LaMonte complements the curved pillar perfectly, while three of Dale Chihuly’s early Sea Forms, womb-red grace the alcoves. Above the sitting area hangs a chandelier by Murano artist Massimo Micheluzzi, the silvery mirrored glass dipping and arching like a fantastical, many-limbed octopus.
Over by the bar, though, the aesthetic breaks down in a visual mix-and-match. The hunt-lodge atmosphere of cowhide carpet and open fireplace gets clever comments from Rick Beck’s chunky cast glass fish lures and Brent Kee Young’s intricately lamp-worked crossed oars. But then on the edge stands a black plastic horse sprouting a lamp out of its head – simply awful. A pumpkin-colored sofa clashes with orange and red reading chairs, an ivory settee fights with bone cafe chairs, and odd lamps hover like disco accessories, obscuring the painstakingly etched terrain of April Surgent’s kiln-formed glass landscapes on the wall. Papas’ statement that “the hotel was designed around the art” obviously doesn’t hold for the bar area.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
All is redeemed on the upper floors. Each of the 21 room floors plus the club room level honors a different artist, whose intrinsic style is gracefully set out in a “glass wall” facing the elevator. Set into this wall is a space for the sculpture, most around 2 by 2 feet; inside the glass is a photo of the artist; etched onto the glass is the artist name and a short statement. Lining the corridor to either side are large photos of the artist working, often at the very piece that’s displayed, and in the rooms are sketches and more photos.
On the room floors, as in the lobby, are some of the world’s most significant glass artists. Dante Marioni’s floor features his signature elongated vessels, gloriously yellow with peach trim. Susan Taylor Glasgow’s “Happily Ever After” is a blue and white fused-glass corset, “sewn” with ribbon and accompanied by images of her other tongue-in-cheek domestic sculptures.
Peter Bremers’ cast glass “Iceberg,” a teardrop hole carved into a huge, ice-blue hunk, is flanked by stunning images of the Greenland icebergs that inspired his work. William Morris’ piece is a sinister, mythical black figure with skinny body and deer’s head, looking more like bronze than glass. Papas has given it a fiery red background, which picks up on the inferno blaze in the photographs of Morris blowing the sculpture.
The floors continue on and on: Martin Blank, Richard Whiteley, Cobi Cockburn, Preston Singletary, Bertil Vallien, Masayo Odahashi and more. It’s a near-encyclopedic guide to all the ways you can work glass, from regional styles to generational differences. It’s serene yet captivating. Only one thing is missing, and that’s verbal explanation – for that, you have to buy the catalogue, still to be written by art critic Matthew Kangas.
At press time, still awaiting placement was a 17-piece glass, video and music installation by Italian Andrea Morucchio on the fourth floor, bought directly by the hotel’s owner Gordon Sunderland.
The art doesn’t stop at the hotel doors, either: Room packages come with glassblowing lessons and museum tickets, with contacts to artists for potential collectors. The Murano also intends to arrange public tours.
Whether the collection at the Murano will draw art tourists and support Northwest artists remains to be seen. But right now, it can be said with certainty that this is a superb private collection on public view, and an exciting thing for Tacoma’s future.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568
Murano by the Numbers ARTISTS WHO’VE CHECKED IN
More than 40 artists from around the world are represented in glass at the Hotel Murano. This is a list of who they are, where they’re from and what they do, plus where to find them in the hotel.
On the street
• Costas Varotsos, Greece: Plate glass in steel sculpture.
In the lobby
• April Surgent, Pacific Northwest/Australia: Kiln-formed, etched landscapes.
• Karen LaMonte, U.S./Czech Republic: Cast-glass dress.
• Narcissus Quagliata, Italy/Mexico: Kiln-formed glass.
• Massimo Micheluzzi, Italy: Blown, mirrored-glass chandelier.
• Orfeo Quagliata, Italy/Mexico: Fused-glass panel, door handles.
• Dale Chihuly, Pacific Northwest: Blown Sea Forms.
• Lucio Bubacco, Italy: Lamp-worked glass.
• Davide Salvatore, Italy: Blown, carved glass.
In the lounge
• Brent Kee Young, U.S.: Lamp-worked oars.
• Rick Beck, U.S.: Cast-glass fish lures.
• Vibeke Skov, Denmark: Kiln-formed, slumped, fused, cold worked Viking boats (overhead).
• Janice Vitkovsky, Australia: Fused glass, murrine.
• Alberto Gambale, Italy: Kiln-formed glass.
• Pat Owens, U.S.: Lamp-worked glass.
• Cappy Thompson, U.S.: Painted glass.
• Dana Zamecnikova, Czech Republic: Painted glass.
• Deborah Sandersley, U.K.: Screen-printed, etched glass.
• Steffen Dam, Denmark: Blown, cast glass.
• Alison Kinnaird, Scotland: Wheel-engraved, sandblasted, cast glass.
• Catherine Newell, U.S.: Kiln-formed glass.
• Mauricio Donzetti, Italy: Kiln-formed glass.
• Dale Chihuly, Pacific Northwest: Color pencil drawings of Sea Forms.
Fourth floor gallery
• Andrea Morucchio, Italy: Cast glass, video and music installation.
In upper floor corridors
Fourth floor: Miriam di Fiore, Italy: Kiln-formed, fretwork.
Fifth floor: Martin Blank, Pacific Northwest: Blown glass.
Sixth floor: Tobias Mohl, Denmark: Blown glass.
Seventh floor: Jessica Townsend, U.K.: Blown glass.
Eighth floor: Seth Randal, U.S.: Pate de verre.
Ninth floor: Janusz Walentynowicz, Poland/U.S.: Cast glass.
10th floor: Steve Klein, U.S.: Kiln-formed, blown, cold worked glass.
11th floor: Richard Whiteley, Australia: Cast.
12th floor: Cobi Cockburn, Australia: Kiln-formed, blown, hot-formed, cold worked.
14th floor: Dante Marioni, Pacific Northwest: Blown.
15th floor: Susan Taylor Glasgow, U.S.: Fused, “sewn.”
16 floor: Flo Perkins, U.S.: Blown.
17th floor: Toots Zynsky, U.S.: Filet de verre.
18th floor: Bertil Vallien, Sweden: Cast.
19th floor: Preston Singletary, Pacific Northwest: Blown, sand-carved glass.
20th floor: Masayo Odahashi, Japan: Cast.
21th floor: Bruno Romanelli, U.K.: Cast, lost wax.
22th floor: Peter Powning, Canada: Slumped.
23th floor: Hiroshi Yamano, Japan: Blown, hot sculpted.
24th floor: Peter Bremers, Netherlands: Cast.
25th floor: William Morris, Pacific Northwest: Blown.
• Ross Richmond, Pacific Northwest. Blown.