Baltimorean's work is clearly the star of London glass exhibit

April 21, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

London -- Shrugging off its granny's attic image, the Victoria and Albert Museum leapfrogged into the past-post-modern late 20th century with the opening yesterday of its new glittering gallery of glass.

Entering the new Glass Gallery is like stepping inside the shimmering facets of a chunk of diamond-cut crystal. Mirrored at both ends, the long, narrow gallery seems to extend more or less to infinity.

Brilliant wonders from across the 4,000-year history of glass glisten in chaste, state-of-the-art Glasbau Hahn cases from Germany. But the centerpiece of the new gallery is the glass balustrade created by Danny Lane, a glass artist who calls Baltimore his home town.

Among the newly washed, dried and polished items are more than 6,000 objects from the National Collection of Glass, an incomparable sampling of virtually everything ever made of glass anywhere.

Here's a small, elegant, perfectly preserved jar for unguents from the Egypt of Amenhotep III, who reigned in the 14th century B.C. Overhead is a magnificent 18th century Venetian glass chandelier in a floral style that transcends merely natural flowers.

There's a millefiori Baccarat paper weight from 1848. In the elegant German cases, lined up as neatly as the heirlooms in your mother's china closet, are hundreds and hundreds of flasks, goblets, bottles, tumblers, decanters, glass trumpets, glass swans, glass rolling pins and at least one glass ship, fully rigged.

And over here is carnival glass Lustre ware made in Bellaire, Ohio; a Pyrex coffee maker made by Corning; and a 500-milliliter Finlandia vodka bottle in the "Ultima Thule" pattern. The dear old V&A is nothing if not inclusive. This is after all the world's greatest museum of decorative arts.

Mr. Lane's Glass Gallery balustrade consists of 140 stacked glass pillars that line the edge of the steel and glass staircase and mezzanine designed by architect Penny Richards. Light ripples along the ice-green pillars in glistening waves like sun over a frozen waterfall.

"We were sort of interested in that boundary between function and visual performance," says the 39-year-old artist who's worked in London 19 years.

Each of his free-standing pillars consists of 59 layers of glass about four inches square.

They're each skewered with a steel bar and torqued together with about 14,000 pounds of pressure. Mr. Lane manipulated the stacks so they catch light like rows of prisms. They're not only pretty, but they keep people from falling off the mezzanine.

"You could even say this is a piece of furniture within an architectural context, a sculptural component within architecture."

Mr. Lane lived in Baltimore after 1969 when his father, Dan Lane, went to work at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Professor M. Daniel Lane is now director of the department of biological chemistry at the school. Danny's mother, Pat Lane, is active in the League of Women Voters and as an environmental lobbyist. They live in Mount Washington.

Baltimore to London

Danny Lane made appearances at Polytechnic Institute, Northwestern High School and the Baltimore Experimental High School before he came to London in 1975 to study art. He's been here ever since.

"Baltimore's still the place I go home to," he says.

He opened his first glass studio in 1981 in East London. His works have since been displayed round the world from London to Tokyo, including about half a dozen galleries and museums in the United States -- but never in Baltimore, where he'd very much like to have a show.

He's created glass fountain sculptures for Malmo, Sweden; Baden Baden, Germany; and Vero Beach, Fla. He's built glass screens for posh London nightclubs and British television. He's made glass furniture for lots of people and places. He has a chair in the V&A's furniture collection.

Glass combines delicacy and strength, he says. You can eat off his glass tables, sit in his glass chairs and jump up and down on his glass beds.

Of his Glass Gallery balustrade Mr. Lane says, "It relates to human scale. It's touched. It's actually handled by people. People like the way it feels."

You don't normally go up to glass and caress it, he says. "I like that boundary that defies category," he says. "It's a nice enigmatic area."

He got the Glass Gallery commission when he showed Elizbeth Esteve-Coll, the V&A's director, a sample.

"It's almost like a Gaudi," she exclaims. (Antonio Gaudi was the great, original and idiosyncratic Catalan architect and sculptor.)

The Glass Gallery used to be the gloomiest gallery in the museum, Ms. Esteve-Coll says, something like the gallery just outside the door where ceramics are displayed in Victorian cases with legs like the front line on a rugby team.

"The glass was mucky and monochromatic," Ms. Esteve-Coll says.

Now everything's sparkling thanks to heroic curatorial assistants like Fiona Campbell, 26, who's brandishing a can of glass cleaner.

"We started last year and we've cleaned over 7,000 pieces," she says. "We finished last week."

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