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The Chrysler Museum of Art presents powerful and provocative stained glass in fall exhibition
Judith Schaechter (American, b. 1961), Human/Nature, 2017. Stained glass in lightbox. Lent by Judith Schaechter and Claire Oliver Gallery, New York. Photograph by Dominic Episcopo.


NORFOLK, VA.- The Chrysler Museum of Art is presenting a contemporary take on the very old and traditional medium of stained glass this fall with Agony and Ecstasy: Contemporary Stained Glass by Judith Schaechter. On view through Jan. 5, 2020, the Chrysler-curated exhibition features 14 illuminated artworks full of pathos and mystery. The artworks, generously loaned by the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery in New York City, span an eight-year period from 2009–2017. Admission is free.

Many of the stained glass lightboxes on view in the Chrysler Museum exhibition feature a solitary figure arranged against a lushly patterned color field in a pose of transcendence or anguish. “It is the similar intensity of these two extreme states-of-being or emotions that we see in Judith’s art that inspired me to curate a show of her work with the theme ‘Agony and Ecstasy,’” said Carolyn Swan Needell, Ph.D., the Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass at the Chrysler Museum of Art.

The show’s title intentionally refers to the 1961 biographical novel of Michelangelo written by American author Irving Stone and the subsequent 1965 film. “I thought it fitting to make a reference to the link between artistic pursuits, ecstatic revelation, inspired genius and madness,” Needell explained. “Judith’s work certainly has elements of the psychological and otherworldly. Are the figures experiencing a conflict of the body, mind or soul? Is the image we see a reality, or is it a hellscape or a vision of paradise? Some of the imagery is creepy or grotesque, so I encourage visitors to tease out the visual and intellectual relationship between the ugly and the beautiful.”

Stained glass has its origins in medieval Europe as an architectural element used to decorate churches and deliver religious messages. Although Schaechter doesn’t specifically focus on religious content, she invokes an aura of religiosity in her artwork to enhance the seductive power of her images.

“Medieval windows sought to confer inspiration and enlightenment to those who would see them,” Schaechter said. The message of these windows is persuasive to the viewer “not because the pictures are convincing narratives,” the artist explained, “but because the colors are overwhelming and the light is sublime.”

Schaechter’s stained glass windows are primarily meant to be viewed and understood as paintings, not architectural decoration. Like a painter who mixes and overlays pigments to create depth, texture and subtle variation in the color palette, Schaechter uses layers of colored “flash” glass (clear glass overlaid with a paper-thin layer of intense color) that has been cut, sandblasted, engraved and filed. She then assembles the glass into a final composition using traditional copper foiling and soldering techniques to hold the pieces together. While some of her stained glass artworks are intended to be displayed as windows set into the wall of a building, much of Schaechter’s work is illuminated in a lightbox that is hung on the wall.

A common misconception about Schaechter’s intensely colorful and highly detailed work is that it is the result of simply painting on the glass. “I have heard people absolutely insist that it is all painted,” Schaechter noted. This misunderstanding underscores the complexity of Schaechter’s technique and the unique nature of her process. Although she sometimes incorporates black and pink enamel or silver stain to define areas of an image or to create a particular tone, little painting is actually done overall.

Schaechter (b. 1961) has lived and worked in Philadelphia since graduating in 1983 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work is represented in more than a dozen museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Hermitage Museum in Russia and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She has also been the recipient of many prestigious grants and awards, including two National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists’ fellowships, two Pennsylvania Council on the Arts awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, a Leeway Foundation Grant, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant Award.

The first major retrospective exhibition of Schaechter’s work will open in February 2020 at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester in New York. Needell is excited to bring Schaechter’s work to visitors of the Chrysler before then. “I’m so pleased that we can share these wonderful examples of this important contemporary artist’s work with our Hampton Roads community just before the stained glass of Judith Schaechter enters a larger spotlight!” Needell said.






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