Bringing out the “bling”: Decadence in glass

H. (Hugh) Shockey Jr.


During the spring and summer of 2007, the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery presented the work of four craft artists in the exhibition From the Ground Up: Renwick Craft Invitational 2007. Preparations for this exhibition led to close collaboration between the artists and the museum’s object conservators. This collaboration focused on the installation of Bancketje, the massive glass assemblage created by artist Beth Lipman. The work consists of several hundred individual glass components installed on a narrow twenty-foot long table recreating a Dutch Renaissance feast. The collaboration began in the planning stages of the exhibition. The artist expressed reluctance with having conservators clean the glass components prior to her arrival for installation. Following an explanation of logistics and time constraints, she gave the conservators permission to proceed. To allay her most pressing concerns, the artist was assured that her labeling system would be retained for installation.

Before the scheduled installation date of the Renwick Invitational, Conservation Intern Rachel Penniman, Contract Conservator Michelle Savant, and Smithsonian American Art Museum Conservator Hugh Shockey proceeded with the week-long process of cleaning the glass with detergent in water and carbon dioxide snow. Lipman’s concerns about conservation cleaning methods evolved into elation when she arrived at the museum. She exclaimed “it’s [the glass] never looked better” and explained that our work elucidated her vision of opulence and excess, which she sees as central to the meaning of her work. During the remainder of the installation, Lipman continued to seek out our advice regarding materials.

This successful collaboration had three results: it aided the Renwick’s acquisition of the work; it gave the artist and conservators new appreciation and respect for each others’ abilities and intent; and it excited our museum colleagues, who in turn generated additional public interest about the work and preservation methods through gallery talks and lectures.

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2008 | Denver | Volume 15