(New York, July 11, 2014)—Forty-four works in glass by renowned Italian architect Carlo Scarpa—created during his 15-year collaboration with Venini Glassworks in Venice between 1932 and 1947—have been donated by Dr. David Landau and his wife Marie-Rose Kahane to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they will join the collection of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. All of the works were on view recently at the Museum in the exhibition Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932–1947.
“This prescient gift from David Landau and Marie-Rose Kahane comes at a critical moment in the Met’s history, as we are reinvigorating our commitment to modern architecture and design,” said Thomas P. Campbell, the Museum’s Director and CEO. “We are extremely grateful for these pioneering works that represent the breadth of Scarpa’s radical experimentation in glass and that redefined an ancient tradition for the modern world.”
“Every piece in this extraordinary gift is an outstanding example of Scarpa’s artistry. Together, these works represent the full sweep of his oeuvre in glass,” said Sheena Wagstaff, the Museum’s Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art. “From the incandescence of a wafer-thin vessel tinged with blue—or a vase in which bubbles of air are suspended in translucent glass that glimmers in the light from tiny fragments of gold leaf—this remarkable donation from Dr. Landau and Ms. Kahane is a dazzling and deeply generous gesture. It will have a transformative impact on our holdings of 20th-century glass and design, and will form important links to the Met’s Greek, Roman, Asian, and European holdings, to whose lineage Scarpa pays shimmering homage.”
Dr. Landau commented: “In 1929 the International Exhibition of Contemporary Glass and Rugs opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in its vitrines Italian glass was well represented by major pieces mostly produced at Paolo Venini’s factory in Murano. They were for sale—which sounds really extraordinary now—but the Museum did not jump at this unrivalled opportunity. My wife and I are trying to partly remedy that by giving a few Venini pieces to a museum it is impossible not to love. Whenever we visit New York, more time is spent in its collections than anywhere else, as there is always something to learn and much to enjoy. We were very struck that, having seen the Scarpa show in Venice, Sheena Wagstaff decided there and then that she wished a version of it to be her first show at the Metropolitan: her enthusiasm and vision were only matched by the dedication and intelligence with which Nicholas Cullinan and Mary Clare McKinley adapted or, rather, re-created the exhibition in the Lehman Wing, adding on and enhancing Marino Barovier’s original work. We are very happy that the visitors to this great institution will forever more have a chance to meet and be excited by the pieces conceived by the greatest Italian glass designer of the 20th century.”
Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978) first began to hone his skills in the medium of glass while working as a young architect and professor of architectural drawing in Venice. In 1932, he was hired by Paolo Venini, founder of Venini Glassworks, as an artistic consultant to the company. Until 1947, he worked closely with Venini master glass blowers and Mr. Venini himself to create more than two dozen styles, in the process pioneering techniques, silhouettes, and colors that thoroughly modernized the ancient tradition of glass blowing. On the Venetian island of Murano, where the glass-blowing tradition reaches back hundreds of years, the Venini factory became a center of innovation, with Scarpa leading the way. His experimentation ventured into surface texture, and he explored a range of vivid hues and colors ranging from intense reds and blacks to subtle earth tones. Radical in nature, his glass pieces went far beyond being perceived merely as decorative or utilitarian objects, with one critic writing that “this production is really at the avant-garde of modernity.”
The 44 superb examples of Scarpa’s work in glass in Dr. Landau and Ms. Kahane’s gift to the Metropolitan Museum span this extraordinary creative partnership and include notable works from the major techniques established under Scarpa’s guidance at Venini:
* Six works from 1932-33 illustrating the a bollicine technique, named for the presence of air bubbles inside the glass produced by injecting potassium nitrate which, when heated, frees miniscule bubbles of carbon dioxide. The distinguishing aspect of bubble glass is its watery appearance, and its forms are generally drawn from East Asian art, made in jade green, as is the case with these works.
* Five examples of sommersi glass (1934-36), which are formed by alternating layers of clear colored glass and bubble glass. Scarpa developed this technique and variations of it, such as sommersi glassware that contains gold leaf, which creates a particularly brilliant play of light.
* Eleven pieces of corrosi glass from 1936 and 1938 that are distinguished by their rough and irregular surface. To make them, each piece is covered with sawdust that has been soaked in hydrofluoric and sulphuric acid, which causes the uneven corroded texture. The surface is then treated to create an iridescent glow. Scarpa created a wide range of delicately shaped pieces, and chose soft shades such as aquamarine, amethyst, and smoke gray, as well as more lively colors such as orange, blue, green, and red.
* Twelve pieces of mezza filigrana glass (1934-36) that revisit the traditional half-filigree technique that was already in use in the 16th century. Half-filigree glass has an extremely thin and translucent structure and is made of a series of clear glass rods with a piece of lattimo (milky), or colored glass, at the center. Because the glass is blown into the thinnest possible structures, these exquisite objects weigh just a few ounces each.
* A beautiful example of lattimo glass from 1934-36 illustrates the opaque white glass that is obtained by adding a large amount of miniscule crystals to the melting glass; the crystals change the index of refraction, giving the glass its milky appearance.
* Two outstanding examples of a spirale glass from 1936. These feature clear glass, decorated with one or more colored opaque glass ribbon-shaped patterns. The ribbon-shaped decorations, which were applied hot and subsequently marbled, could be in circles or coils, and the coiling pattern was particularly used for non-decorative objects such as candlesticks, frames, toiletry, and dinner sets.
* A “cinesi” vase, one of a series of incamiciati (sleeved) glass vases and bowls that have forms drawn from the East Asian porcelain much appreciated by Scarpa. Some of these brightly colored glass items were exhibited at the 22nd Venice Biennale in 1940 to great acclaim. In the exhibition at the Met, these works were shown alongside Chinese celadon porcelain from the holdings of the Museum’s Department of Asian Art.
* A murrine trasparenti vase (1940) from a series of clear glass murine items that was exhibited for the first time at the 22nd Venice Biennale in 1940—a very rare variation of the opaque murine and ground murine glassware exhibited on the same occasion.
* Two important rigato and tessuto vessels, which may be considered Scarpa’s original interpretation of rod glass (i.e., filigree glass), consisting of multicolored glass rods. Exhibited at the 21st Venice Biennale, in 1938, the rigati series was the first rod-glass series and included plates and small bowls with thin cold-joined rods of alternated colors such as dark green and black. The alternating rods account for the striped appearance, which gives the technique its name. Unlike rigato glass, tessuto glass was blown, not iridized, and featured striking colors.
* A beautiful variegati bowl from 1942. The variegati (variegated) glass of this series includes clear glass items coiled with thin irregular stripes, usually in autumnal colors. Scarpa exhibited a series of variegated glass items with unusually smooth shapes at the 23rd Venice Biennale, in 1942.
* And finally, two battuti vases that conclude the gift and the representation of Scarpa’s time at Venini. Scarpa conceived the finish of battuti (beaten) glassware by the early 1940s in order to obtain a hammered silver effect.
The exhibition Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932–1947— which included all 44 Scarpa works in the current gift—was on view at the Metropolitan Museum from November 5, 2013, through March 2, 2014. It was an adaptation of Carlo Scarpa. Venini 1932–1947, organized by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, and Pentagram Stiftung for presentation at Le Stanze del Vetro, Venice, in 2012, curated by Marino Barovier. At the Metropolitan Museum, the exhibition was organized by Nicholas Cullinan, Curator, assisted by Mary Clare McKinley, Research Assistant, both of the Museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. The exhibition was made possible in part by the Jane and Robert Carroll Fund.