Its long snout raised inquisitively, with large open eyes, almost majestically, the Eco Jacaré (Eco Caiman) by Bert van Ransbeeck greets visitors to the exhibition The Fourth Coburg Glass Prize. The animal made of recycled green bottle glass over a period of three years changes its skin color depending on the angle of the light and the viewer’s perspective. An eye catcher at the exhibition entrance as well as a memorable advertiser, the reptile promises visitors more animalistic discoveries, more fascinating art works made of glass.
The Coburg Glass Prize is being awarded for the fourth time in 2014. More than 550 artists applied. The international jury appraised photographs of 1150 works from the years 2012 and 2013. In the end, the jury invited 150 artists. After a second round, the jury awarded three generous main prizes and eight special prizes; it will present an audience award when the exhibition ends.
The exhibition provides an overview of contemporary glass in Europe. Represented are above all young artists such as Anna Mlasowsky, Tim Rawlinson, Andrej Jančovič, and Robyn Townsend but also established ones such as Keith Cummings, Colin Reid, and René Roubíček. The youngest participant was born in 1989, the oldest in 1922. This mixture allows a cross section of contemporary glass art. It becomes apparent in the diversity of artistic expression—there are sculptures, two-dimensional glass pieces, installations, light objects, mixed media, and video art. The exhibition also offers a wide spectrum of techniques. Grouped by thematic and technical aspects, the works provide visitors with a fascinating tour through the spacious historical rooms of Veste Coburg. In total, the exhibition covers more than 1000 square meters, 200 of which are at the European Museum of Modern Glass in Rödental.
The Coburg Glass Prize is a competition of great renown. Since Heino Maedebach, then director of the Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg, courageously initiated it as the first competition for modern glass in Europe in 1977, the Coburg Glass Prize has become a permanent fixture in the glass art scene, even if there are other renowned prizes and competitions. This in turn explains the immense gap between the second and third Coburg Glass Prizes of 1985 and 2006. The great feedback from artists and the extensive impact on visitors as well as experts speak for themselves. There were no thematic requirements for the competition in 2014. Participation provides an incentive and encouragement for artists to try out the material glass but also requires time and money. From the application to the award ceremony fifteen months have passed. Artists have to pay the transport costs for the art works, there and back, themselves. The past has shown that the Coburg Glass Prize can be an important step in the artistic career of award winners and participants.
Dr. Sven Hauschke, curator, member of the jury, and director of the European Museum of Modern Glass explains the background of the Coburg Glass Prize 2014.
Dr. Meike Leyde: On an exhibition area of more than 1000 square meters, 150 artists from 26 countries are showing 170 works. What are the challenges of such a presentation?
Dr. Sven Hauschke: There were no formal, technical, or thematic restrictions for the Coburg Glass Prize competition in 2014. All professional artists who were born in Europe or live here and work with glass could apply. That is why the submitted pieces have nothing to do with one another, contrary to works in thematic exhibitions. The biggest challenge is to create an exhibition of 170 individual objects, to make connections, and to present interrelated groups of works in which the larger contexts become visible to the visitors.
ML What characterizes the Coburg Glass Prize 2014? What distinguishes it from other competitions such as the European Glass Context?
SH The Coburg Glass Prize is the largest competition in the area of glass in numbers as well as in organization. At the European Glass Context on Bornholm, artists may not apply themselves. Instead, so-called national commissioners suggest four artists for each participating European country in each of two categories—emerging artists and established artists—from which the jury selects a maximum of two representatives. At the last competition in 2012, 96 artists from 28 countries were presented.
The Coburg competition is open; artists apply themselves. Thus we realize as broad a spectrum of submitted objects as possible. Correspondingly difficult is the selection. Unfortunately, we had to reject about 400 artists.
ML After the Second Coburg Glass Prize 1985, the European Museum of Modern Glass was founded; in 1989, it was the first museum in Central Europe for modern glass. The Third Coburg Glass Prize 2006 resulted in the new museum building, initiated and financed for the most part by Otto Waldrich and designed by Alfred Wagner. Will the Fourth Coburg Glass Prize set comparable impulses? What significance does it have for the European Museum of Modern Glass and the town of Coburg?
SH The Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg and thus the town of Coburg have a unique institution in the European Museum of Modern Glass. In the twenty-five years of the museum’s existence, it has established itself as a focal point for visitors and artists due to its collection and diverse exhibitions. Not only experts associate with Coburg modern glass and its museum—to which the Coburg Glass Prize as an innovative competition contributes significantly. We consider it a special distinction that more than 100 artists have announced that they will attend the opening of the exhibition Coburg Glass Prize.
ML Looking at the origins of the individual artists, it becomes apparent that many British and German artists are included, yet relatively few Dutch or Italian artists, for example. Why is that?
SH The Netherlands is of course a smaller country than Germany or Great Britain. Basically those countries that have good, widely varying, and innovative educational opportunities are particularly well represented. These include above all Great Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Slovakia, but also the Netherlands with the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. In spite of its historic tradition in glass production, Italy no longer plays a significant role. Germany is in danger of falling behind in international competitions due to some drastic cuts in education. The number of exhibitors at the Glass Prize reflect this: In 2006, 44 artists came from the Federal Republic of Germany, 27 from the Czech Republic, 18 from Great Britain, and 7 from Slovakia, whereas in 2014 only 42 artists are from the United Kingdom, 29 from Germany, 18 from the Czech Republic, and 7 from Slovakia.
ML The Danish artist Karen Lise Krabbe is receiving the first prize. She created a remarkably small, fragile object of pâte de verre, which takes up the traditional—though concealed—vessel form. What is so special, so innovative about her work?
SH The objects by Karen Lise Krabbe are like pieces from a cabinet of curiosities. Viewers will recognize them as jars only in their open state. One might think that they were made in a natural manner, like layers of sand formed by high and low tide. In fact, the artist casts the jars layer by layer in a sand mold—a manual process that is similar to the production process of a 3D printer. The perfectly worked jars fascinate viewers tremendously. In spite of their fragility and minimal scale they never seem small. One could also imagine them in monumental dimensions, as large cliffs formed by erosion. Karen Lise Krabbe works with the material glass, with the illusion of natural creation, with form and function, as well as with the viewers’ perception. She succeeded in making highly artificial masterpieces.
ML The exhibition Coburg Glass Prize offers visitors a unique opportunity to get an idea of current trends and movements in glass art. Looking back and comparing previous award winners and their curriculums vitae, it is conspicuous that in 1977 a trained designer—Ann Wärff—received the prize. She worked for the glass manufacturer Kosta Boda as a designer. In 2006 the prize was awarded to Josepha Gasch-Muche, a trained graphic artist who uses the material glass to realize her ideas. What role do glass artists and the material glass play today and which position does glass art hold in contemporary art?
SH In 1977 and also still in 1985, the exhibition in Coburg included many vessels, which were often mouth-blown and relatively small. In 2006 sculptural works dominated. Today, in the year 2014, the immense diversity stands out. Not only in regard to the techniques but also the materials the artists employ. They combine glass with plastic, paper, slate, concrete, precious metals, steel, iron, copper, wood, ceramics, textiles, or stuffed animals. They use glass as a printing medium; many make photography as well as video techniques a central medium. Furthermore, sound plays a decisive role in two performances. In the age of globalization, social history and environmental aspects as well as art historical issues feature increasingly. There is hardly a work that does not make a statement in addition to having artistic value. Artists express emotions and feelings with glass.
One can conclude that artists who work with glass have completely stepped out of the shadow of the crafts—viewed from a traditional perspective. Glass is one material amongst many, a permanent part of contemporary art that we can no longer imagine being without. This is what we want to stress with the Coburg Glass Prize 2014.
ML What is your personal favorite in the Coburg Glass Prize 2014?
SH In nearly a year of preparation, including more than seven particularly intense months, we successively dealt with all works to be exhibited, especially in the process of putting together the catalog. In this period, the favorites inevitably changed. And thus there is not just one favorite but a whole series. We are showing many objects in Coburg, some of which can elicit strong emotions—that always touches one personally as well.
I am in the fortunate position of being able to acquire not just one but several of the exhibited works for the Coburg glass collection. Thus I do not need to settle on one favorite.
Dr. Meike Leyde, art historian, works for the Museen der Stadt Bamberg, and lives in Coburg.
Bert van Ransbeeck (Belgium): Öko-Caiman / Eco Jacaré, 240 x 120 cm