For Students

In Focus: Recent Acquisition – Glass Works from the Collection of J. Ira and Nicki Harris

Michael Pavlik, Kunstruction Series #2

Michael Pavlik, Kunstruction Series #2, 1989, Cast glass, cut, acid-etched, ground, bonded, Gift of J. Ira and Nicki Harris, 2013/1.290

“Glass is a vessel for light” is a truism of glassmakers: it is a most interesting vessel for light because it not only contains, but also amplifies, moves, and redirects light, thereby animating the objects as does no other media. In the early 1960s, glassmaking moved out of the factory and into individual glassmakers’ studios where each artist developed a personal style, as is evident in these two works.

Michael Pavlik’s geometric cast and cut glass sends light around arcs, rebounding within prisms. The angles of the prisms and their beveled edges create a kaleidoscopic effect, playing with the paper-thin laminations—two red and one blue—placed between the geometric sections. From a distance we perceive the architecture of this piece, but close-up we see the action of light on the interior—a seemingly infinite prismatic mirror. From this view we understand the artist’s aspiration to seek ”balance between the external form and the internal space or soul of the piece."

David Hopper uses the traditional method of paperweight production for his sculptural figures, which is associated with the California funk movement. In this technique, an object is encased in layers of glass that magnify interior detail. Here, the encased object is a figure of a man, sculpted from glass and painted. The external layers not only magnify the figure, but the undulating folds around it act like a funhouse mirror, making him move and sway as you walk by. Hopper asks the viewer to decide if the figure is imprisoned, preserved, protected, or something else.

These works, generously donated by J. Ira and Nicki Harris, are significant additions to UMMA’s impressive glass collection. The Harris’s interest in glass, expressed here, helps us to appreciate the splendor of this medium:

Our collection began when a very good friend and well-known collector in Chicago gave us a piece of Harvey Littleton’s, one of the fathers of Contemporary Glass. We were mesmerized by the piece and we still have it to this day. The properties of glass—its twists and turns or sharp, jagged edges, and the manipulation of colors and design elements—are seductive, and pleasing to behold. We have been fortunate enough to meet some of the artists we have collected works from, which has really helped us to appreciate the source, the inspiration and the creativity that these pieces express. We are delighted to share these treasures with the University of Michigan Museum of Art.


Pamela Reister
Curator for Museum Teaching and Learning

This recent acquisition will be on view in the first-floor connector between the Museum’s historic wing and the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing from July 7 to October 12, 2014.

Second image from top: David Grant Hopper, Anton's Letter, 1990, Hot-sculptured and cased glass, paint, metal, Gift of J. Ira and Nicki Harris, 2013/1.293