In this exhibition in MYRA Culture Center dedicated to the production of crystal glass we are both exhibition designers and curators.
It is one of the stages of our ongoing interest in this material: over the years one-off experiments with crystal glass have grown into an important area of our work.
The need for research has appeared to sum up this journey and to tell about unique crafts of Vladimir region. This is how this exhibition happened, created together with MYRA Creative Community and Gus-Khrustalny Crystal Factory.
We call this art show experimental, because it unites two different approaches. We are both craftsmen who are looking for inspiration and researchers who try to join the dots between crystal piece, fine art and architecture. Gus-Khrustalny Crystal Factory has helped with the practical side: they have prepared a crystal object in different stages, illustrating the steps needed to produce one crystal glass piece.
Visual impressions and associations from MYRA Collection illustrate these stages. The collection is based on visual connections — viewers and researchers can draw their own conclusions while observing it. In creating this exhibition we have applied MYRA’s approach to collection, pairing art with glass development process.
Exhibition’s cheeky title reflects the duality of working with this material. Polished crystal glass shines brightly but there’s a lot of hard and tedious work behind the glamour. Every stage of crystal glass making resembles magic, even alchemy, while finished objects look so ethereal and fragile as if they were created from air. Crystal glass is full of contradictions: its softness turns to hardness, fragility is juxtaposed with unusual sturdiness and behind its elaborate patterns are precise calculations. These paradoxes make crystal glass alive — this reminds us of how we gain power in unexpected circumstances.
FROM BILLET TO MASTERPIECE
This chapter introduces five items, which show the process of crystal glass making. These stages gave their names to exhibition’s chapters ‘Shape’, ‘Pattern’, ‘Cut’, ‘Transparency’ and ‘Color’ explores the making of tinted crystal glass.
Exhibits 1 and 2 are the billets of future glasses. First glass has been through stages of blowing and molding. Round top is called ‘cap’ — this is an unnecessary excess of glass that was left after blowing the piece. It has to be cut off — in order to do so, the piece is heated again to become more flexible, then diamond cutter removes the excess on the top. After this stage rough edges of glass shape are polished with cast iron disk for further work — this is how Exhibit 2 was made.
Exhibit 3 has already been in artist’s hands. Artists draw the pattern of future cut with simple sharpie marker — it wipes off simply after the cut is done. Exhibit 4 is how the glass looks like after the cut. To make the faucets shine, the item must go through polishing with acidic mixture, after this operation the items are washed. Exhibit 5 is the final result. It takes up to 10 craftsmen to make this piece.
The glass mixture is batched in special furnaces. Several craftsmen work with a single item. Firstly, the molten glass is picked with a blowpipe. The temperature of glass is very high, however, it gets cold quickly. That is why the craftsmen are constantly spinning the blowpipes around to sculpt the glass mass. After the initial shape is done, the process starts again. New layers of molten glass are added until the craftsmen are satisfied with the sculptured shape of the future item.
‘Krasnaya Panorama’ (Red Panorama) Magazine. No 1. 1930
Cover artist: Yuri Pimenov (1903–1977)
At The Glass Plant. Around 1930
Print on paper. 46 by 39 cm
MYRA collection has an illustration of this process — cover of «Krasnaya Panorama» (Red Panorama) with Yuri Pimenov’s work ‘At The Glass Plant’. Yuri Pimenov was a VKHUTEMAS (Higher Art and Technical Studios) alumni. In 1920s Pimenov was the member of The Society of Easel Artists (OST). Its aim was to show the every-day life and achievements of young Soviet country — this is how Pimenov’s factory cycle was created.
Of course, there’s some artistic freedom in depiction of glass-blowing process. The blowers hold the tubes high, as if they are some musical instruments. Hot glass is way too heavy to be held like this — it can be up to 20 kilos of hot glass on the end of the pipe.
How the craftsmen work with billets has a lot in common with the making of architecture project — a drawing gets more layers with every step.
Unknown Artist (Circle of Yakov Chernikhov)
Architecture fantasy. Undated
Mixed media on paper. 32.5 to 41.2 cm
Yakov Chernikhov is one of the most prominent architects of Soviet avant-garde, although there are very few of his completed buildings. His most well-known work is the tower of the ‘Krasny Gvozdilshchik’ plant in Saint Petersburg that looks like a giant nail.
Chernikhov’s architecture mostly exists on paper. Chernikhov was sure that graphics would soon become the common language of the world. His architecture fantasies were dismissively called ‘paper architecture’ by Chernikhov’s contemporaries, however, over the time these graphic sheets became an independent field of architect’s work and unique archive of ideas. Today Chernikhov’s fantasies don’t seem so unbuildable. His inspiring ideas are actually brought to life by contemporary architects.
Ivan Leonidov (1902–1959)
Project of Lenin Institute and Library in Moscow. 1927
Postcard. 35.5 to 31 cm
Another visionary architect is Ivan Leonidov. His heritage exist mostly on paper too, however, his works have influenced generations of architects after him as well as his contemporaries. For example, Swiss architect Le Corbusier has considered Leondov his only competitor, naming him ‘the poet and the hope of Russian constructivism’.
The postcard depicts Leonidov’s graduation project — Lenin Institute and Library in Moscow. Glass sphere is an auditorium and reading hall stuffed with high-end technologies. For example, Leonidov has designed an automatic book delivery to reader’s workplace. Leonidov often viewed architecture as composition of simple geometric shapes; hense is this project’s combination of sphere and prism.
The next stage is making of the pattern of the future cut. Artists usually copy the examples of patterns from factories’ archives, yet there are items, which are decorated free hand. This doesn’t mean that archive patterns are boring: on the contrary, some of them are the trademark of the factory and were designed by prominent glass-artists. And by the beginning of 20th century applied arts have become the experimental area for many avant-garde artists, providing them with a lot of artistic freedom.
Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979)
Sheet No 19 from artistic folio-album. 1924
Pochoir on paper. 53 by 71 cm
Sonia Delaunay has actively applied her avant-garde experiments to her work with clothing patterns. Unstoppable artists designed interiors, costumes and stage sets. In 1924 Delaunay opened her cloth-printing workshop. By the time the artist has already started her own fashion brand Delaunay, so some designes could embellish dresses and skirts from her atelier. The cornerstone of Delaunay experiments was the avant-garde idea to infiltrate environment with art — there’s no coincidence that many artists have turned to product design.
Lyubov Tagrina (1884−1955)
Pencil on paper. 46 by 39 см
Soviet artist Lyubov Tagrina has designed patterns as well. She was the student of Pavel Filonov and used his analytical method in her art. Filonov compared the making of the artwork with the growth of the flower. Finished painting is an organic product where every detail is unseparable from another.
In 1930s it was impossible for the Soviet artists to experiment with their art. Socialist realism has become the one and only ideological platform, while other methods were named outlaw and prohibited. However, Filonov’s school has unofficially functioned until artist’s death in 1940s. His students were forced to change their style — some of them have refused and have changed their field of work, moving from painting to applied arts, just like Tagrina did, or illustration instead.
Postcard ‘Mossovet Radio Station’ (Shukhov’s Tower). 1925
Print on cardboard. 33.5 to 28 cm
Dynamics that shape gives to the pattern grid has a lot in common with hyperboloid structures of engineer Vladimir Shukhov. He invented these light-weight and delicate structures which are durable and easy to erect. By the way, a very simple item — a wicker basket, inspired the engineer.
Crystal glass is cut with the cutters. The wheels of the cutter are spinning around fast and vary by thickness and size. The thicker the wheel the deeper will be the cut. The name ‘diamond cut’ has emerged because of the diamond coating of the cutter’s wheels. Each factory has its own unique cut. There are ‘strawberry diamond’ (pyramids with tops cut-off) that came from English glass makers, ‘Russian stone’ (octangular shapes in close proximity to each other), fans motifs and many other varieties.
Pavel Kondratyev (1902–1985)
From ‘Сatastrophe’ series. 1968
Italian pencil on paper. 46 by 50 cm
Andrey Sashin (1896−1965)
Destruction Of Independent Surfaces. 1929
Ink on paper. 38.6 by 34 cm
Crystallization of pattern in lead glass reminds of the pursuits of avant-garde artists. The artworks in this chapter illustrate different approaches to examination of shape. Andrey Sashin and Pavel Kondratyev are the students of Pavel Filonov and followers of his analytical method.This method is based on the thorough examination of artwork’s subject and ambition to find the primary element of the world. This process of destruction or, on the contrary, creation of the world is depicted in these artworks.
Compilation of Aleksey Kruchyonykh, Grigory Petnikov and Velimir Klebnikov «Zaumniki». 1921 (1922)
Cover artist: Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891–1956)
Print on paper. 38.5 by 31 cm
Aleksandr Rodchenko has considered the line the basic element of everything and encouraged his fellow artists ‘to build, not to picture’ to overcome the static character of composition.
These principles are illustrated in this cover art. Rodchenko’s linocut consists of dioganal lines that form an everchanging whirlpool. By the way, his photographs show the same principle: diagonal lines create rhythm that makes even simple shot come alive.
Aleksandr Grigoryev (born 1949)
Borisoglebsky Monastery. Art-object ‘Pyramid’. 1975
Photography. 45 by 47 cm
Decades after avant-garde ideas have influenced the art of Dvizheniye (Movement) group. Geometric abstraction in photographs of Aleksandr Grigoryev invades familiar world, creating an illusion of movement in two-dimensional image.
Colorless crystal glass is more common that colored although the experiments of dying the glass are as ancient as the glass making itself. Colored lead glass was more expensive because of the pigments: for example, to achieve ruby color the craftsmen added gold to glass mass while silver was used to make yellow glass.
Vladimir Kasatkin (born 1945)
Crystal glass composition ‘Mosaics’. Undated
Colored lead glass
Gus Crystal Factory named after Akim Maltsov
Today Gus Crystal Factory batches 20 shades of crystal glass that vary from bold to pastel. Mosaics series shows the whole range.
Vladimir Kasatkin (born 1945)
Decorative sculpture ‘Construction’. 2020s
Colored lead glass. 46 by 37 by 25 cm
Gus Crystal Factory named after Akim Maltsov
This sculpture resembeling Kazimir Malevich’s ‘Architectons’ was created from lead glass samples, continuing artist’s research of color.
Now factories can batch several colors at the same time — it helps the craftsmen to create bicolored items of layered glass. In this technique the final result emerges after the top layer is cut to reveal the base color.
Max Bill (1908–1994)
Sheet from Portfolio. 1941
Litograph on paper. 40 by 33 cm
Layered glass technique has a lot in common with color experiments of the artists. Max Bill, Bauhaus allumni and close friend of Vasily Kandinsky, created optical illusions by layering different colors on top of each other.
Kuma Album Compilation: A Selection From Student Magazine Of Kumast Seminar. 1928
Print on paper. 40 by 33 cm
We have chosen this piece as a direct graphic association with this technique.
Mixed media on paper. 49 by 45 cm
VKHUTEMAS (Higher Art and Technical Studios) have also payed a lot of attention to the experiments with color. More than that, the discipline ‘Color’ was mandatory for all students. This drawing reminds of color exercises of architect Vera Kolpakova, in which she explored chromatic properties of color. Pyramid is built by intensity of color — the intensity can change in colored glass as well.
Each facet in cut glass transmits light through the object and reflects it. However, it is not the cutting process alone that makes the glass shine. Perfect transparency is achieved on the stage of glass batching: the mixture must be clean from unnecessary minerals otherwise the glass will have an unwanted color. For example, excess of iron gives lead glass a greenish tint.
Finished items are polished to achieve the sparkling effect. Crystal glass is soaked in a mixture of heated acids. The glass gets its distinct shine after several minutes in such bath.
Vladimir Kasatkin (born 1945)
Mukha shot glasses. 2017
Colorless lead glass
Gus Crystal Factory named after Akim Maltsov
The series of these shot glasses reinterprets historical glasses that are no longer in use. The glass was designed in 18th century, when emperor Peter The Great has opened first taverns. He wanted to fight alcoholism in Russian Empire by offereing people places with food, not drinks only. To attract new visitors, the emperor has issued a decree that the first drink in tavern is always free of charge. Some visitors have used this law to get drunk for free, just cruising between the taverns. That is why this small shot glass was invented. ‘Mukha’ means ‘fly’ in Russian: the shot glass is as small as a bug, plus it sounds similar to Russian махнуть, analogue of ‘grab a drink’.
‘Severny’ Eau De Cologne Bottle. 1950s
Author: Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935)
Glass. Height — 19.5 cm
This fragrance was produced from 1910s to 1996 and Kazimir Malevich, one of the most prominent artists of Russian avant-garde, designed the bottle. The bottle has changed a lot though: the poor bear on top has lost its curly fur and tail. But despite all changes, this is a fine example of Malevich’s sculpture work. In its first iteration the iceberg was covered in cracks — a one-of-a-kind example of fragrance bottle made of crackled glass.
Boris Smirnov (1903–1986)
Project of Decorative Vase ‘Dancing With Balls’. 1950
Mixed media on paper. 57 by 59.5 cm
Crackle glass is one of many techniques of decorative glass. Sometimes glass artists combine matte details with polished surfaces. This decorative vase by Boris Smirnov, one of the most prominent artists of Leningrad decorative glass, is one of such examples. To restore the matte finish, the item is returned to glasscutters after polishing.
Aleksandra Ekster (1882–1949)
Untitled (Costume Sketch). 1924
Gouache and pencil on paper. 69 by 56.5 cm
The transparency is a common theme in arts, especially in fashion. Aleksandra Ekster has experimented with sheer textures in her works for theatre and cinema, using such brand-new materials of her time as celluloid.
It is highly likely that this drawing could me Ekster’s work for ‘Aelita’. Ekster has borrowed a lot from avant-garde art to create costumes for this sci-fi film. Apart from celluloid Ekster have used other materials, unexpected for costume design, such as cardboard and metal.
A Model At ‘Populyarnaya Mekhanika’ (Popular Mechanics) Performance. 1990s
Photography. 28 by 30.2 cm
Transparent plastic film was frequently used by ‘Pop-Mekhanika’ — members of the orchestra and performers have designed their outfits by themselves, using every material available. This artistic approach has earned the musicians a status of avant-garde successors.
Aleksey Sundukov (born 1952)
Oil on canvas. 108 by 90 cm
The rise of Aleksey Sundukov’s career happened in 1980s, during Perestroika years. This is when he has painted one of his famous works, ‘The Queue’ (now in State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg) — a never-ending line of people is waiting patiently for something. Since then everyday routine and boredom have become main themes of Sundukov’s paintings. But behind the predictability there’s always a hidden anxiety that draws attention to a dull scene. This is what happens in ‘Nirvana’. Transparency of figures combined with the artwork’s name turn these passengers of underground train into sinister ghosts.
There are hard and tedious work, noisy machinery and heat behind the scenes of glass making. On the exhibition a pile of glass crystal breakage symbolizes numerous attempts which always precede the perfection. But what makes crystal truly magical is its flexibility — you can always start again. Glass can be melted again, so every shard has a chance to become a shining masterpiece.
Dmitry Gutov’s work ‘Pathetic, Crooked, Imperfect’ is the part of this installation. Conceptualist artist often works with fonts; he usually uses his distinct handwriting. Artworks’ background, on the contrary, is always featureless, just like a street wall. Gutov seems to ask a question — what is art and what is just a writing on the wall? This return to simplicity is a way to overcome the crisis of painting.
Crystal glass has always been associated with glamour and wealth. But new generations considered it old-fashioned and too fussy, switching to minimalist aesthetic. Thankfully, the situation is starting to change. Now people switch to crystal glass to find something truly unique, handmade and quirky. And let’s be honest, crystal glass is a truly beautiful art.
We wanted to close this exhibition on a dazzling note. Table with in-built lightbox is a showcase that presents works of crystal glass-makers of Gus-Khrustalny Crystal Factory. Works from MYRA collection accompany crystal items. Art by kinetic artist Lev Nusberg represents the refraction of rays of light In crystal glass items. A sketch of wall art is a dedication to the craftsmen that keep working with crystal glass today. And a pack of cigarettes with a speaking name is a reminder that the dazzle of crystal cuts can make even practical and modest item a miracle.