Schantz Galleries opens an exhibition of cast glass from Sweden by Bertil Vallien
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Schantz Galleries opens an exhibition of cast glass from Sweden by Bertil Vallien
Bertil Vallien, Under Surface II, 2022, Cast Glass, metal, ribbon, 9 x 6 x 5.5" Photo: Göran Örtegren.

STOCKBRIDGE, MASS.- Bertil Vallien is known for his exploration of dualities—past/future, interior/exterior, light/dark, life/death, hot/cold, soft/hard. In his intricately layered cast glass sculptures, surfaces oscillate between transparent polish and distorting grittiness (another duality) to provide multiple visual avenues of entry. Storytelling is fundamental; it begins with the form and finish of the work but develops within the glass body, characters and symbols hovering in suspended animation. Much of Vallien’s approach to construction and content does indeed reinforce a focus on dichotomy, but the work embodies a complex spectrum of elements that make it not so much a binary experience but a pluralistic story about the world we live in.

WAYPOINTS, the title that Bertil Vallien chose for this exhibition at Schantz Galleries, offers insight into messages within the cast glass sculptures. Always looking, and searching along the path of Being, we are given signs, some obvious, and others require intuition to interpret.

The two-headed Janus continues a theme Vallien first introduced in the late 1990s about the Roman God of transition, duality, and passageways who could simultaneously see what came before and what was yet to be. Janus is mounted on a base of azure blue stairs, stylized like undulating waves to reinforce the notion that we are in a constant state of movement and flux.

Water, which covers two-thirds of the earth and feels fathomless and relatively unexplored, is both a churning force and a still veneer. Fascinated by what is happening under the surface, Vallien explores the material qualities of water as it is interpreted in glass, and the metaphorical qualities of water as a symbol of the fragile skin and uncharted depths of humanity.

A series Vallien calls Under the Surface, is also represented in this exhibition. Instead of vibrant cobalt, the interior of this piece is a mottled, silvery grey, as if the vast night sky has been consumed by the earth. Gravelly gold facades contrast the shiny darkness, precious reminders of the delicate ground on which we live. Though crumbling buildings litter the coarse earth on the top of the sculpture, a disembodied light glows on saffron flecks and a bright red house offers comfort and shelter. Years ago, Vallien created a similar series of work called Area II, in which maps led archeologists to obliterated and forbidden places devastated by heat, frozen in ice, or ravaged by mankind. He called these archeologists Watchers, but they did more than merely observe the tragic consequences of natural disasters and human destruction; they were gatekeepers to a catastrophe of their own making. Now writ large, the [A picture containing text Description automatically generated] Watchers in this exhibition (also cast in blue) are bold totemic figures. They exude the power of kings and dictators but are forever petrified and bound at the legs by red twine.

Each work of art by Bertil Vallien begins with a touchstone—whether it be a current or historical affair, religion or legend, or words and letters—that the artist then carefully considers from all sides. Each is a thoughtful layering of image, color, form, and finish that explores then transcends the innate dualities of life. They are filled with nuance and symbolism, both materially and narratively, which leaves them intriguingly open to interpretation. This open-endedness is a big part of the humanity of the work, and though it tends towards the serious there is a streak of irreverence which comes directly from the artist. There is, for instance, the uncommon spontaneity of the abstract and compelling Toro, its surface made directly in the sand with only simple tools and the artist’s hands. Does this augur a new direction for the artist, who has teased that one day he might “become a minimalist” after a career devoted to the complexity of storytelling? Perhaps in the plurality of Bertil Vallien, there is room for both.

Bertil Vallien was born in 1938 in Stockholm. He was trained as a ceramist at Konstfack in Stockholm and continued his education in Mexico and Los Angeles. His career as a radical ceramic artist began in New York. After returning to Sweden, Bertil Vallien lived and worked for more than half a century with his wife Ulrica Hydman Vallien in Åfors, in the heart of Swedish Glasriket, where he still resides today. Bertil Vallien has been associated with the Kosta Boda glassworks, which is also a partner of the exhibition, since the 1960s. Bertil Vallien is represented in many leading international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the National Museum in Stockholm, and the Chicago Art Institute and the Neue Sammlung in Munich . He has received numerous prestigious prizes and awards, including the Swedish Academy Gold Medal and the Prince Eugen Medal. In the summer of 2021, Bertil Vallien presented a highly acclaimed exhibition in the park of the royal summer residence Solliden on the Swedish island of Öland.

WAYPOINTS, September 23 – October16, 2022. Schantz Galleries is a destination for those seeking contemporary art by premier artists working in the medium of glass. Located at 3 Elm St. in Stockbridge, Mass., the gallery has established itself as one of the leading contemporary art glass galleries

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