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Metamorphic

"Persimmon/Lapis," by Sonja Blomdahl, blown-glass vessel.

Some interesting news has just come out of Boulder. Susan Krane, director of the CU Art Galleries at the University of Colorado, is leaving for the greener pastures -- or would that be the sunnier skies? -- of Arizona. This fall, she'll take over as director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, a relatively new institution with a relatively large budget.

The first time I met Krane, early in 1997, some months after she arrived, I knew she'd be leaving sooner or later, because even at that early date, I got the feeling she was already looking for a different job.

The problem for Krane -- who had left the modern and contemporary department of Atlanta's High Museum to take the CU position -- was Colorado. In her view, the state is a pitiful cultural backwater with little or nothing of interest. She'd hardly had time to check things out around here -- a single season hadn't even passed -- when she informed me during an interview that she deemed the art world of the Front Range to be both behind the times and irrelevant.

But isn't the proof in the pudding? What Krane does consider to be up to date and relevant is best revealed by the upcoming William Wegman show at the CU Art Galleries. Wegman, a one-hit wonder from the 1970s and '80s, is best known for his humorous photos of dogs dressed up in costumes. To mark the show's opening, visitors are invited to dress up their own dogs and bring them along. So you see, it's actually Krane's program for the CU Art Galleries, and not the local art scene, that is behind the times and irrelevant. I don't know about you, but I love a good irony.

I had no advance warning that Krane would be leaving CU, but I should have known something was up. In the past few months, I'd heard from several local art movers and shakers, including Mark Sink, Cydney Payton and Simon Zalkind, not because they were promoting their own shows at Gallery Sink, Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, or the Singer Gallery, respectively, but to ask me to review something -- anything -- at the CU Art Galleries. All of them said the same thing: Krane had complained to them that I had been ignoring her accomplishments. It's apparent now that there was a method to Krane's complaints. She was, right then, being vetted by the powers that be at the SMCA, and I guess she wanted as much press as possible to help her get the job.

One thing Krane's departure jeopardizes is the launching of the capital campaign meant to fund the construction of a new facility for the CU Art Galleries. She's been a guiding force behind the plan, which has evolved over the last few years. It seems to me that the expansion, to be designed by New Mexico architect Antoine Predock, is now seriously off-track.

Also unclear is the eventual outcome of the war of words that the expansion plan has generated -- to the point of getting lawyers involved. Here's what's up: The CU Art Galleries wants to change the institution's name and is toying with the moniker Center for the Visual Arts. When Sally Perisho, longtime director of the Metropolitan State College of Denver's Center for the Visual Arts heard about that, she told Krane that there was already an institution called the Center for the Visual Arts and that it might be nice if CU thought up a different name.

CU offered to change the proposed name to the Visual Arts Center, but Perisho didn't like that, either, since that's what people call the CVA half the time already. The issue hasn't been resolved, but I've got an idea: Why not have CU snuggle up to wealthy individuals who might donate large sums of money, then name the place after them? That approach doesn't seem to be doing the University of Denver any harm. And that way, CVA director Perisho could get a good night's sleep for a change.

Speaking of Perisho, it's informative to contrast her approach to Krane's. Instead of using her position as simply another line on her resumé, Perisho has established the CVA as one of the state's most important fine-art institutions. And she did it in less than ten years.

Far from turning up her nose at the art of our region, Perisho has included it in many of the exhibitions she's presented at the CVA. She has also brought in shows featuring artists from around the world. As a result, she has made -- and continues to make -- a solid contribution to the area's cultural life. The same can't be said for Krane.

Perisho has also carved out a special niche for what could be called craft shows, and art glass is the subject of the current exhibit at the CVA. Hot and Cool Contemporary Glass is a traveling show made up of pieces created by American studio artists from across the country. It was organized by the Media Gallery in Garnett, Kansas, and it's being toured by ExhibitsUSA. The traveling version doesn't include artists from Colorado, which is hardly shocking considering how few glassmakers work here; in fact, I can name only two: Kit Karbler and Michael David, the collaborators behind Denver's Blake Street Glass. Perisho added three of this team's pieces to the exhibit, which starts with their works.

The most important of the Karbler and David pieces is "La Mesita," a glass table made in 2001. It is constructed of various pieces of cut and blown glass and has a plate-glass top. The piece was assembled cold, as opposed to what's known as "hot assembly," in which its parts are joined in a glass furnace. Karbler's and David's pieces of this sort have been exhibited around the area for the last few years.

Just beyond this group is a low stand on which a pair of shallow handkerchief bowls have been placed side by side. The brightly colored opaque bowls were done by Richard LaLonde, who, like many of the artists in Hot and Cool, works in Washington State, one of the nation's major centers for the production of art glass. For these bowls, LaLonde used a technique known as "slumping," in which sheets of glass, and crushed glass, are put in a kiln instead of a glass furnace and shaped through the use of forms.

Also noteworthy is the luxuriously finished blown-glass "Reflecting Bowl," done in 1999 by Molly Stone of California. The piece appears to be shaped into a half-sphere, but it's not, as it is ground flat on the bottom. The rim is also ground, and the interior of the bowl is covered in gold leaf. One very nice feature is the polka-dot pattern in purple with pink centers; the polka dots are formed from glass rods embedded in a regular pattern around the bowl's sides.

Among the most beautiful objects in the show are the two sculptures by New York's Christine Barney, "Amber-Emerald Fusion" and "Emerald Balance." Both were made in 1997 of hot-formed glass that has been ground, and each is perched on a ground black glass stand.

Although all of the pieces mentioned above demonstrate the important place of Venetian glass in the development of American studio glass -- Venice has been a world center of art-glass making for hundreds of years -- none are more Venetian in style than Barney's. She has obviously looked at the work of Flavio Poli, a significant mid-century Italian artist who designed glass but left the job of actually making it to professional glassblowers, the common practice in Italy. As is more common in this country, Barney both designs and makes her sculptures.

In the next gallery sits another piece that refers to the Venetian tradition: John Leighton's "Untitled" is a free-blown piece made in 1998 in a vegetal form -- a purple-ribbed vessel adorned with green leaf-like shapes that run up the sides. Leighton, who works in the Bay Area, is obviously referring to the similar things done by Ercole Barovier in Venice in the 1930s to the 1950s. And like the Italians, he created this piece with the assistance of glassmakers -- in this case, Joe Cariati and Justin Parker.

Another tradition on display -- one that is fairly archaic and has been mostly abandoned -- is reverse painting on glass, something that is associated more with Northern Europe and the United States than with Italy. This technique is done either cold, or, as in the case of the pair of vases by Seattle's Cappy Thompson, with vitreous enamel that is fired in a kiln. The two vases, both blown by Ben Moore and Dante Morioni, have been decorated with representational scenes in a vaguely medieval style. One, from 1994, has a devil and an angel having lunch; the other, from 1992, shows a man riding a wolf.

Also compelling are Josh Simpson's oversized paperweights, done in 1998, in which the artist uses multi-layered clear and silver-reactive glass with preformed inclusions. They look like models for planets, and that's probably why the Simpson series from which they are taken is called the "Megaplanet" series and is said to have been inspired by the NASA photos taken of Earth. But like so many other things in this show, they also recall Venice.

Even more Venetian is the oversized perfume bottle, its stopper lying next to it, by Pennsylvania's Kathleen Mulchahy. The bottle, made in 1998, is from her "Persuasion Series" and is further titled "Quivering." The word "Quivering" has been etched into the side of the perfume bottle and the etching filled with gold, but I think the piece would have worked better without this addition.

Across from the Mulchahy are two chaste vases of the Scandinavian type by Seattle's Sonja Blomdahl. One is called "Persimmon/Lapis" and dates from 1996; the other, "Blue, Ruby, Chartreuse," is from 1997. Both are simple baluster vessel forms done in horizontal bands of the colors named in their titles.

In the last part of the show are two mold-blown pieces by Virginia-based Rolanda Scott. They have been made in an elaborate series of processes. Scott first throws clay vessels on the potter's wheel, then makes a plaster mold of the vessels. After that, glass is melted and poured into the mold. Once it is cooled, the glass is ground and sandblasted. Finally, Scott applies an acid wash.

Also here are two 1996 abstract sculptures by California's David Ruth, whose specialty is casting glass. In these pieces, the horizontal "Formalhaut" and the vertical "Sargasso," he has assembled different chunks of colored glass and fused them together into single pieces in the molds.

Hot and Cool seems just the ticket for a sweltering summer afternoon. The work looks refreshing, even juicy, and the CVA has a great air conditioner. But, please -- leave your dogs at home.