Nicole Chesney Mentioned in the Wall Street Journal
Art Glass Offers Clear Advantages to Collectors
Dealers and Collectors Say There Are
Opportunities at All Points on the Price Spectrum
by Peter S. Green
September 21, 2014
There was a time when glass was a craft. But in recent years it has become something more: an established art form, and an attractive—and affordable—investment.
“Art glass is a great way to begin collecting art because there is so much available at so many price points,” says Carina Villinger, head of 20th century decorative art and design at Christie’s.
Since the launch of the Studio Glass movement in the 1960s, glass has slowly crossed the species barrier from craft to fine art. Today, examples of glass art include bright colors and arresting shapes, works that resemble paintings in glass, and objects both strange and familiar encased in glass.
“You’re taking sand, soda and ash, and through fire transforming them into something higher,” says Douglas Heller, a partner in Heller Gallery in New York City. A successful glass artist needs both the inspiration of an artist and the skill of a craftsman to make a successful piece of art glass, Mr. Heller says.
“Right away, that separates out the dilettantes,” he adds.
Harlan Fischer, president of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, a group of leading collectors, says what attracts collectors to art glass is the sense of “urgency” seen in a finished piece. “You can’t just start on your artwork and go eat lunch and come back,” Mr. Fischer says. “You have to continue working it in its molten form to prevent it cracking and shattering.”
Experts in the field agree there are opportunities for collecting art glass at all points on the price spectrum. “Admittedly you have to have some discretionary income,” says Mr. Heller. “But you don’t have to be wealthy.”
Works at the high end of the market have brought auction prices ranging from around $70,000, for the Italian artist Paolo Venini, to $480,000 for a piece by Czech collaborators Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova that was sold in 2007. Glass works by Libensky tend to be massive exercises in geometry—some more than 10 feet tall—that transform the light that passes through them. Blown glass pieces by Lino Tagliapietra, who has fused the techniques of Murano glassworks with vibrant colors of American studio artists, sell for $50,000 to $75,000. His cast glass panels can sell for $95,000 to $250,000.
There are newer artists as well whose pieces fetch prices from $5,000 to $15,000, including Amber Cowan, whose floral hangings use recycled mid-century pressed glass, Norwood Viviano, whose castings map the decline of industrial cities including his hometown of Detroit, and Nicole Chesney, who paints mirrored glass plates evoking stormy skies.
Works by artists who achieve critical acclaim have proved to be good investments. Libensky pieces that sold for $1,200 to $6,000 in the early 1980s are commanding prices 20 to 30 times higher these days, says Ferdinand Hampson, founder of Habatat Galleries, in Royal Oak, Mich. Works by Harvey Littleton, widely considered to be the father of the Studio Glass movement, in recent years were fetching as much as $40,000, according to the Artnet price database, after selling for as little as $600 in the 1970s, Mr. Hampson says.
“The fun part about glass,” says Tina Oldknow, senior curator of modern and contemporary glass at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., “is that there’s so much going on that’s so different.”