Wednesday April 6, 2016 | by Andrew Page

Rethinking the Littleton myth, Koen Vanderstukken explores alternate glass-art histories in new book

Filed under: Announcements, Book Report, News

The head of the glass studio at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada, Koen Vanderstukken was driven by curiosity to delve deeper into the evolution of glass as an art medium than the concise story that Harvey Littleton was singlehandedly responsible. This inquiry, which he undertook in 2008, led him to ponder the intrinsic complexity of the material of glass that drew artists such as Larry Bell and Robert Smithson who had little connection to the Studio Glass movement as led by Littleton, and evolved into a book project. (Disclosure: GLASS is planning to run an excerpt from Vanderstukken's new book in the Fall 2016 edition. Also, editor Andrew Page is the author of an essay that appeared in a Black Dog Publishing book.) Taking notes, researching, and writing, on his own time, he has completed the manuscript and sourced images to illustrate his points. The 288-page book is scheduled to be published in September 2016 in partnership with U.K.-based Black Dog Publishing but Vanderstukken needs to finance half the printing costs, and has turned to crowd-sourcing, where in less than 24 hours, he's raised 20-percent of his goal of $15,000 US. The GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet spoke with Vanderstukken about the book project and his fundraising initiative. Excerpts from our telephone interview below:

GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet: I know you have listed a goal of $15,000 on your indiegogo campaign. Is that what you need to complete the project, or a reflection on what you've put in so far?
Koen: In my deal with my publisher, we share expenses 50/50, and my contribution is going to be £ 20,000. When I figure my expenses since I started this project, my expenses are close to $ 56,000 CAN (about $42,700 US), and I still have some images I need to purchase the rights to.

GLASS: What made you embark on what seems like this epic project that's taken you almost a decade?
Koen: There were two things. Obviously, there was a personal curiosity about why did glass all of a sudden appear around the 1960s, or was that just an impression? Second of all, I had never found in-depth research or publication about this story, and I decided to dig into it further than just "Harvey Littleton started Studio Glass," since I never saw it as a valid reason.

GLASS: So the story that Harvey Littleton started it all in Toledo didn't satisfy you?
Koen: Yes, with all due respect — I don’t want in any way to minimize his efforts — but that by itself didn’t seem like enough of a reason to account for the changes that happened. The more I started looking into that, the more I confirmed that there was, indeed, more going on. The fact that it wasn’t just Studio Glass but glass was also in the contemporary arts at that time. Larry Bell and Robert Smithson started using glass, and that had nothing to do with the furnace that Littleton introduced, or what was going on then. When Egidio Costantini  started working with Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst in the 1950s, not related to each other. What originally started as "One day I might publish it as a book," turned into almost borderline obsession, where it became much more than what I originally had in mind. Never put the book on the forefront as an ultimate goal, and I decided I will only publish when I feel I have enough to say.

GLASS: Could you have published this yourself for a lot less than working with Black Dog?
Koen: Yes, but it wouldn’t have been the same quality, with a professional team of editors and designers who have worked on the text and layout in such a professional manner. Self-publishing would have had an impact on the quality, and, more importantly, I wouldn’t have had the distribution network to spread and promote the book the way I want to. I wanted to book to reach a broader public of art historians and the contemporary art world.

GLASS: If I could paraphrase the presentation of the Studio Glass story as seen by Tina Oldknow just before she retired from her position at The Corning Museum of Glass, it was that Studio Glass developed a language of glass as a sculptural medium that has more recently been embraced by the wider contemporary art world, which would not have access to the range of technical skill and possibilities without the Studio Glass pioneers.
Koen: It is indeed true since the 1990s, more participation between different groups, cross-pollination between people coming from a glass background, no doubt in the last 20 – 25 years, that has grown exponentially, in my book, the last chapter, you will definitely see that. People like Berengo is a good example of that, bridges that gap in, if you ask me, better than Constantini did in the 1950s, and the language has developed and is better understood. But I think there has to be a need for this language in order for it to blossom and to grow and to be established — and that’s my argument, the thesis of my book. There must have been something that created the need to develop that new language, because it wouldn't have developed if there hadn't been a need for it.


GLASS: What are your hopes for the book's impact when it comes out in September?
Koen: There’s always that hope that, one way or another, my ideas could contribute on a larger scale, but I don’t see that as an objective. If that happens, that would be fantastic, but that’s not my goal. I never wrote the book with the intention to change the world. I had an idea around it, I spent a lot of time and effort to try to develop that idea and make it accessible to a lot of people. When the book comes out, people can agree or disagree, and either way I’m fine with it. I hope that it will stimulate a discussion or a debate that might lead to something new.

Visit Koen Vanderstukken's indiegogo page to support the publication of GLASS: Virtual, Real.

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.