An Unlikely Marriage of Glass and Steel

Museum of Glass hosts largest exhibit of Albert Paley installations

Everyone walking through Albert Paley’s exhibit at the Museum of Glass will have a different experience. The abstract sculptures — a fusion of glass and steel — have a commanding presence both in stature and in brilliance. Heavy ribbons of metal are twisted around large glass pieces, and in some cases, the seamless design make it difficult to tell where the metal ends and the glass begins.

Complementary Contrasts: The Glass and Steel Sculptures of Albert Paley at the Museum of Glass has been seven years in the making, and all the sculptures — 29 in total — were likely curated over the last 20 years, said the museum’s director of communications, Jana Marcelia.

A glass and steel sculpture by New York artist Albert Paley

Photos by Chuck Lysen

Paley, who’s recognizable to many by his long white hair and handlebar mustache, got his start in jewelry making and has evolved over the last 40 years creating furniture and an array of metal sculptures, many of which are public art installations. His work has been featured in major museum collections internationally, and he is the first to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the America Institute of Architects, the institute’s highest award to a non-architect.

Steel and glass are an unexpected marriage, Paley said, but they’re not as different as one might think. Both are formed with heat and cool into a fixed position. Paley collaborated with several glass artists, including Seattle artist Martin Blank, to create the glasswork first and then forged the metal sculptures to communicate with the glass. He doesn’t do any outlines or models first; the art just develops over time.

A glass and steel sculpture by New York artist Albert Paley

“When you go out on the dance floor, you don’t start with a formalized thing with how you’re going to move your feet,” he said. “You become part of that moment. You create your own environment. For the artist that’s what happens. The artwork is an experience and a sensual and intellectual dialogue and curiosity enters into that.”

Paley said he’s often working with 60 or 70 installations at a time and he has a team of artists who work with him at his New York studio, so the pieces evolve over time. The work he does is figurative, and it comes from an emotional side.

“Emotion by nature is non-literal,” he said. “You can feel something profoundly, but it doesn’t have a verbal context. … Thoughts and feelings are very transient. They change and evolve. You don’t feel the same from hour to hour. That integration is all part of the emotional context that everyone shares. It so happens that for me its manifesting in the work.”

He likens it to photography. Installations evolve based on how he’s feeling at the time, and they’re fixed in their state like a photograph, freezing the moment. But as time passes, our feelings get more complicated. Our perception changes and our understanding evolves.

A glass and steel sculpture by New York artist Albert Paley

This exhibit at the Museum of Glass is the largest he’s ever done. Accompanying the installations are behind-the-scenes photos of Paley and several two-dimensional works on paper that mimic the style of his sculptures.

The exhibit is open until Sept. 3, 2018, so you have almost a year to check it out. Paley will return to the museum Jan. 17-21 to continue his glass and metal residency and will be giving a public lecture.



is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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