The contemporary glass art of the mudac
It was in 1970 that the patrons Traudl and Peter Engelhorn, friends of René Berger (former director of the Fine Arts Museum of Lausanne) and Rosmarie Lippuner (director at the time of Lausanne’s Decorative Arts Museum) launched the mudac collection. The Engelhorns, who were of German and Austrian origin but had settled on the Riviera Vaudoise a few years before then, wished to set up a collection of one sort or another. Perhaps Impressionist paintings? Or antique bronze pieces? All that had already been done however, whereas they were looking for something unprecedented, something linking up with the artistic and technical developments of the day...
It was at this point that the Engelhorns were introduced to Peggy Guggenheim, who was living in the Venier dei Leoni Palace of Venice at the time. It so happens that, in the late 1950s, the master glass blower Egidio Costantini had submitted an ambitious project of his to Peggy Guggenheim, known as a great lover and active supporter of modern art.
Constantini was convinced that glass was a vital 20th-century material that could lend itself perfectly to usages other than the utilitarian and decorative purposes it had served until then. He believed that glass possessed technical and expressive features suited to artistic creation, and sought to prove his point by inviting recognized artists to work—with his help—towards developing this potential. He wanted them to send him their sketches so that he and his assistants could lend shape to their ideas, producing unique objects more in the vein of small sculptures than vases or trinkets. Peggy Guggenheim not only accepted to see the glassmaker, but also agreed to propose his project to the artists she knew: these included Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Jean Arp, Marc Chagall and Max Ernst.
In the period from 1959 to the mid-1960s, based on the sketches submitted by a number of artists, and thanks to the skills of Egidio Costantini and his workshop in Murano, a group of 36 pieces came into being. Named La Fucina degli angeli (Furnace of the Angels) by Jean Cocteau, who actively participated in the project, this group of works is considered to have given rise to a whole new discipline—namely, glass art.
These pieces, heralding the advent of glass art as an unprecedented artistic discipline on the borderline of the decorative arts, fascinated Peter and Traudl Engelhorn to the point of their acquiring the entire group.Their enthusiasm led the couple to research the subject, whereupon they came to realize that this was no unique idea. Since the early 1960s, in both Europe and the United States, several initiatives had been coming into being in the glass art field, including a movement labeled studio glass.
The studio glass movement introduced a new approach to glass and to the usual ways of fashioning it; release was sought from the constraints of productivity and the industrial context to which glassmaking belonged at the time. All this required an individual workshop and the creation of a kiln on a small scale, allowing glass to be fired to its fusion point (between 600 and 1400 degrees Celsius), to be shaped and to be re-fired. In other words, for it to be cooled off in stages until attaining room temperature. In 1962, Dominick Labino achieved just such a kiln.
Meanwhile, in their continued enthusiasm, the Engelhorns alighted on these ideas for their collecting purposes.They were impressed by the dynamism of the creators involved in all these recent developments with respect to a new art seeking to make the most of such a paradoxical and fascinating material’s potential. All that remained to be found was a venue, which would have to be public, since they wished to share their new-found passion with others; it would also have to be suited to displaying the works and to promoting them on behalf of all the interested parties.
In his customary open-minded manner, René Berger lost no time in introducing the Engelhorns to Rosmarie Lippuner who, upon the death of its preceding director, had just taken over the direction of the Decorative Arts Museum. And this was the starting point of a marvelous collection whose 36 original objects have, over a 43-year period, grown into over 550 pieces.
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Pl. Cathédrale 6