Tiffany on show

“Tiffany: Color and Light,” a major new survey of Louis Comfort Tiffany“s work, giving a fine overview of Tiffany“s glorious vases, leaded-glass lamps and work in stained glass, is presently on show…

“Tiffany: Color and Light,” a major new survey of Louis Comfort Tiffany“s work, giving a fine overview of Tiffany“s glorious vases, leaded-glass lamps and work in stained glass, is presently on show at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, its only American venue. Other than showing us the artistic value of the items he made, the exhibition also demonstrates that Tiffany was not an artist in the traditional sense. Even if he was responsible for some of the most innovative handicrafts ever created, he hardly set his hands on the objects he signed; he never blew glass; nor did he create the iridescent surfaces that were his trademark. His work was, on the other hand, carried out by a team of uncredited women. This, however, does not make Tiffany a less important figure and, on the contrary, makes him a true radical, as his art supplies were other people; the masterpiece he built with them was a corporate entity called Tiffany Studios. The tens of thousands of objects that the entity turned out were just a small part of the total work. One of the most impressive objects on show comes from Tiffany in his 30s, and is a stained-glass window that could count as an ancestor of modern abstraction for the vestibule of his home. He built a composition that was nothing more than a bizarre swirl of shapes and hues using pieces of sheet glass. Lacking any kind of ornamental structure, it has an avant-garde edge. After a tour through Europe in 1889, and exposure to the innovative glassware of Emile Gall, Tiffany founded a glassmaking factory, hiring a pioneering British glass technician named Arthur Nash. Thanks to the guidance of Nash, and the corporate supervision of Tiffany, hired glassblowers created bold and yet graceful designs without fussy hand-cutting and curlicues, replacing them with asymmetrical, nature-inspired forms that foreshadow the biomorphs and streamlined shapes of the 20th century.to be seenon show: a tiny, pearlescent bud vase looks like melting glop; the vessels from the company“s “Lava” line use foamy black glass that looks like molten stone. These masterpieces were definitely the work of “Tiffany,” a collective of designers and makers given various amounts of leeway by the corporate master who oversaw them, and not just the work of Tiffany. They. But “Tiffany” wouldn“t have existed, as a powerful force in the history of art, without Tiffany.