Tuesday April 4, 2017 | by Awura Ama Barnie-Duah

OPENING: Gaining acceptance, glass pipes being shown at larger art venues

Apexart, a downtown Manhattan non-profit arts venue for independent curators and emerging and established artists, is currently showing an exhibition of glass pipes unabashedly celebrated by the show's organizer David Bienenstock, who is the former head of content at High Times magazine and a self-described "cannabis consultant." Despite the growing support for the decriminalization of marijuana (the most recent Gallup poll on the subject found 60-percent of Americans support legalization), Bienenstock has titled the exhibition "Outlaw Glass," and it gathers a wide range of work by a new generation of artists following in the footsteps of pioneering flameworker Bob Snodgrass, whose legacy the exhibition is designed to honor. Not just a showcase of the best work by contemporary glass, the exhibition also delves into the "authentic underground cannabis culture," examining the sometimes shadowy aspects of pipemaking, which has endured targeted law enforcement crackdowns as recently as in 2003's Operation Pipedreams. Bienenstock notes that the fine art world's embrace of pipemaking may be "following the trajectory of graffiti culture, which started literally in the streets amid serious and sustained official repression, only to break through into galleries and then put its stamp on both high art and popular culture."

Meanwhile, Philadelphia's National Liberty Museum is unveiling an exhibition entitled "The Treachery of Images: A Glass Pipe Exhibition" with an opening reception on Friday, April 7th. Named for the famous Magritte Surrealist painting that subverts representation of a pipe by a line of text saying that it is not a pipe, the exhibition will kick off with a Friday evening panel discussion on the state of glass pipemaking with Terasina Bonanini, the director of Ruckus Gallery: David King, an artist and glass technician & supervisor at Tyler; artists Slinger and Jeremy Grant Levine aka Germ, Wayne McDermott, who considers himself a production glass pipe artist; Nick Vadala, a journalist; and Chris Baltz, a collector. The exhibition at the Liberty Museum runs through May 7th, 2017, and features work by K. Sass Glasserie, Brandon Martin, Germ, Banjo, Slinger, Elizabeth Heikka-Huber, Adam Whobrey, Eva Shelley, Dietglass, Darby Holm, Joe Ivacic, Eve Hoyt, JOP!, Ouchkick, and others. A total of 20 artists have work in this exhibition curated by a team that includes the museum's director of glass Meegan Coll, assistant director of glass Emma Salamon, and glass coordinator Holly Smith.

Both exhibitions trade on the underground aspects of the pipe making world, with the Liberty Museum's website trumpeting how transgressive it is being by showing these works. "Museums are traditionally seen as gatekeepers of artistic respectability. Let’s crash the gates with the help of radical and revolutionary artists," the exhibition page exclaims in bold type. The website emphasizes the hurdles glass pipes face because of their changing legal status: "The 'Treachery of Images' embraces the technical, as well as the social challenges pipemakers face in their efforts to be accepted within the art world," reads the exhibition description page, perhaps referencing the topics that the Friday evening panel discussion will tackle.

The apexart show in New York takes on these issues within its exhibition itself, with "multimedia examinations of these artists’ lives, and the sub rosa subculture that supports them." The New York exhibition also examines the chronology of pipemaking, tracing it back to a meeting of Snodgrass, known as the "Godfather of Glass," who became intrigued by the field after he tracked down the maker responsible for a glass pipe he had used, smoked together, and set out on the path to make better and more elaborate pipes, pioneering a number of processes such as fuming along the way. Fifteen works by Snodgrass himself are part of this show that includes a massive roster of the top names in the field including Elbo, Kiva Ford, and Snic, to name just three of the nearly 50 artists included.

According to Bienenstock, "the most exciting movement in art glass today comes from those creating high-end artifacts that happen to double as tools for getting high".

"Outlaw Glass"
Through May 27, 2017
 291 Church Street
New York, New York
Tel: 212.431.5270
"The Treachery of Images: A Glass Art Exhibition"
April 7 – May 7, 2016
National Liberty Museum
321 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Tel: 215.925.2800

GLASS: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for 35 years.