Exhibition Review: The Glass Heart: Art, Industry & Collaboration

Two Temple Place, London WC2R 3BD, 27 January 2024 – 21 April 2024 (open Tuesday to Sunday, https://twotempleplace.org/visit-us/). Entry free.

Reviewed by Stephen Huws

The relationship between art and industry is essential to the understanding of stained glass in the nineteenth century.((See, J. Allen, Windows for the World: Nineteenth-century stained glass and the international exhibitions, 1851-1900, Manchester 2018.)) This is the starting point for the new exhibition at Two Temple Place The Glass Heart: Art, Industry & Collaboration, curated by Antonia Harrison. But this exhibition aims to explore this connection in glass in all forms since 1850, a very ambitious goal, not least in the space available.

The exhibition adopts a very broad chronological approach, with many thematic excursions and incursions. The first items the visitor encounters are from the last thirty years: sculptures and a film. Then we jump back to Victorian stained glass, showcasing an abridged account of the evolution of styles that took place, from pictorial work by George Hedgeland, to more medieval inspired work by Hardman & Co. (Fig. 1), to Pre-Raphaelitism in William Morris’s firm, to the Arts & Crafts work of Christopher Whall. Also in this section are items relating to the Crystal Palace and to Victorian glassware. The first room concludes with a stained-glass panel by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, a selection of glass ships in bottles from the 1980s (Fig. 2), an assortment of glass objects from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including rolling pins, Pyrex dishes and walking sticks (Fig. 3), and twenty-first century sculpted objects (Fig. 4). The range of items on display is remarkably wide, but may be too ambitious and unfocussed for some.

Fig. 1 Hardman and Co and George Hedgeland stained glass windows. Photo: Author.

Fig. 1 Hardman and Co and George Hedgeland stained glass windows. Photo: Author.

Glass ships by Sunderland glass makers in the 1980s accompanied by contemporary pieces by Ayako Tani. Photo: Author

Fig.2 Glass ships by Sunderland glass makers in the 1980s accompanied by contemporary pieces by Ayako Tani. Photo: Author

Fig.3 Glass walking stick rolling pin and Pyrex objects, makers unknown. Photo: Author.

Fig. 4 Veronica Whall cartoons and Christopher Whall stained glass sit alongside Monster Chetwynds St. Bede. Photo: Author

Fig. 5 Ghost Ocean, Sophie Thomas and Louis Thompson, 2023

Moving through the exhibition, things become a bit clearer, with later sections more focused on discrete themes and periods. The stairwell contains a beautifully displayed selection of items relating to the sea (Fig. 5). On the landing above the stairs, beneath the magnificent stained-glass ceiling by Clayton & Bell, are videos inviting us to consider the art and craft of glassmaking, and the skills required, which are increasingly at risk of being lost.((Daniel Carpenter, ‘Craft skills under threat with 17 additions to the Red List of Endangered Crafts’. Heritage Crafts (11 May 2023) https://heritagecrafts.org.uk/redlist2023/, accessed 16 February 2024.))

The next room contains an interesting array of sculpted items from across the period of this exhibition, though they might have been shown to better advantage. For example, the chair made of Uranium hot sculpted glass by Elliot Walker, which should be an intriguing item to contemplate, is placed in the corner by the door, where it might easily be missed or even sat upon, looking more like a steward’s chair momentarily vacated.

The final room, in the great hall, is bookended by the two wonderful pictorial windows by Clayton & Bell which are a permanent part of Two Temple Place. This is the most successful room in the exhibition. The visitor is greeted by the largest work on show, a great stained-glass window by Pinkie Maclure with accompanying audio by John Wills (Fig. 6). The benches placed in front of this piece encourage you to sit and listen with headphones and this was the most engaging part of the exhibition. The environmental message here is powerfully conveyed with recycled greenhouse glass. Whereas the rest of the exhibition looks at objects which would be typically studied under the rubric of design history, this room offers something nearer to art history, and the clarity of the curation is stronger. The selection is still varied but features contemporary artists who have much to say using glass, producing a more satisfying and coherent grouping than we find elsewhere (Fig. 7).

A final touch here that is very enjoyable is the inclusion of a few test pieces of work by artists in the exhibition which viewers are encouraged to touch, to really get to grips with the materiality of glass as a substance (Fig. 8).

The strength of this exhibition is the quality of the items displayed. All the objects, from stained glass to sculpture, are expertly chosen and presented beautifully in these remarkable surroundings. For the stained glass afficionado the items lent by the Stained Glass Museum may be familiar, but for everyone else this is an excellent chance to be introduced to these excellent windows. The contemporary pieces of stained glass are also outstanding, and this is a great opportunity to bring them to a wider audience.

It is admirable how much this exhibition attempts, but it would need another dozen rooms to really do justice to all the periods, themes, and styles that it tries to include. This means that there are large gaps. For example, there is no ecclesiastical stained glass from after Piper’s work in the 1960s. For an exhibition of this size, it might have been better to restrict either the range of objects explored, or the period covered. As it is, it stands as a medley of glass that should have something to delight every audience, from the expert to the uninitiated. All this variety was a wonder to try and behold and Two Temple Place is a truly stunning venue, always worth visiting for the building alone. Let us hope these highlights are enough to entice people back for more glass.

 

Fig.6 The Soil, Pinkie Maclure, 2023, Photo: Author.

Fig. 7. Judge and Jury, Chris Day, 2023. Photo: Author.

Fig.8 Objects to touch alongside Clayton & Bell’s Sunset. Photo: Author.

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