Art-glass extravaganza at Habatat Galleries in Royal Oak

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
A glimpse of infinity with "Blue Nurturing" by Tim Tate at Habatat Galleries.

If you're nuts about art glass, you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage to Royal Oak's Habatat Galleries for the 47th-annual "International Glass Invitational Award Exhibition," up through July 5. 

With 500 artworks by 100 artists from all over the world, Habatat bills its invitational as the world's largest glass show held year in and year out -- one that is quite simply a feast for the eyes and the soul.

The show ranges from the literal and figurative to the very abstract, all set within black-box gallery spaces with precise lighting for maximum drama and impact. 

Understandably, perhaps, Habatat Vice-President Aaron Schey resists saying which pieces, or what type of artistry, number among his favorites. But he will say, "I like risk-taking, and people who take the medium into new territory – whether 3-D printing, or the creative use of LED lighting strips."

Taking the medium someplace very interesting is Brent Kee Young with "Matrix Series, Cubism VII, 'Inside Outside....Outside In,'" a large cube made of small, twisted glass tubes. That alone would be striking, but within that network "hangs" a glass sphere that stands out on account of its denser construction. 

Gorgeously illuminated, it's a remarkable, disorienting sight. 

More figurative but still intriguing are the two kiln-glass horses, "Stay," by Caterina Urrata Weintraub, lit bright-white in a pitch-black corner -- eerie, elegant apparitions suspended in mid-air by thin wires. 

Or consider "Map IV" by Sweden's Bertil Vallien, a pockmarked vertical panel of sand-cast glass from which a luminous, golden figure is emerging, as if from underwater. 

Some pieces, of course, are just fun -- such as Emily Brock's miniatures, like her soda fountain, "Keep on Playing," which comes complete with tiny jukebox and pink-glass waitress behind the counter.

And downright likable are the two jovial grotesques -- one pink fellow with horns, the other olive green, without -- who are yukking it up in "The Temptation of Lies V" by David Reekie. 

By contrast, Sweden's Ann Wolff gives us "Monument," a glowing, green cast-and-polished glass geometric sculpture a bit like an off-center ziggurat.

Elegant geometry by Swedish artist Ann Wolff, titled "Monument."

In North America, at least, it's striking how recent these sorts of individual glass creations are, all of which owe paternity to the 1962 Toledo Studio Glass Movement kickstarted by Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino.

It's hard to believe, but before that artistic glass was only produced in this country at industrial scale. It took Littleton and Labino's workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art to finally nail down the specific glass chemistry and designs for small kilns suitable for an individual artist working on their own. 

In effect, the pair freed glass from the factory. 

"The technology had to be created," said Schey. "They had that stuff in Murano in Venice, but it hadn’t been brought over here."

"Temptation of Lies V" by David Reekie at Habatat Galleries.

Habatat's "International Glass Invitational" was launched just nine years later in Dearborn. Since then, said founder Ferdinand Hampson, the gallery has wandered through Lathrup Village, Pontiac and Farmington Hills before landing in its present large, rambling Royal Oak space in 2001. 

"For a long time," said Hampson, "I called it the gallery on wheels."

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 


'International Glass Invitational Award Exhibition'

Through July 5

Habatat Galleries, 4400 Fernlee, Royal Oak 

11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tues. - Sat; noon - 5 p.m. Sun. (month of May only)

(248) 554-0590