New Book | Closed on Mondays

Posted in books by Editor on May 3, 2021

From Lund Humphries:

Dinah Casson, with a foreword by Christopher Frayling, Closed on Mondays: Behind the Scenes at the Museum (London: Lund Humphries: 2020), 208 pages, ISBN: 978-1848224346, £30 / $40.

Dinah Casson, co-founder of Casson Mann, museum and exhibition designers for over 30 years, guides the inquisitive museum visitor through a series of questions and problems which confront museum curators, and their designers, behind closed doors.

The transformation of museums from the ‘dreary, dusty places’ they used to be to places that people want to be in, alongside objects they want to be near and ideas they want to understand and then share has been extraordinary. During the last twenty-five years, millions of pounds have been poured into our national museums in the UK: as a result, they are certainly brighter and fuller. It is against this background that Dinah Casson has opened the service entrance of the museum a little.

This book is not an explanation of what an exhibition designer does or how to do it. Instead, by means of a series of essays punctuated with comments from collaborators and visitors, it explores exhibition design and alerts the visitor’s eye to this invisible craft. It explores questions such as: why are most paintings in carved, gilded frames, regardless of artist, period or subject matter? Why do so few contemporary art galleries have windows? If a label text irritates us, what should it say instead? Why do facsimiles make some people so uncomfortable? Why do we keep all this stuff? What is it that visitors want from our museums? In doing so, it offers enjoyable insights, which will add depth to our future visits through the front door (which is usually closed on Mondays) and will make us question what is shown, why it’s shown where (and how) it is, what’s written about it and how the interaction between museums and their designers has encouraged each to change.

Since creating Casson Mann in 1984, Dinah Casson, together with her partner Roger Mann, been involved in some of the most interesting and complex of recent museum installations both in the UK and overseas; from the British Galleries at the V&A in London to the new facsimile at Lascaux in Perigueaux, the work of the award-winning practice has been widely published and it is recognized as one of the leading companies in the field.

Exhibition | In Sparkling Company: Glass and Social Life

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 3, 2021

Pair of covered green vases, ca. 1765 and a pair of vases, 1750–75, probably from the workshop of James Giles, London, gilded copper-green lead glass (Corning, New York: Corning Museum of Glass, 2003.2.4 A-B, 54.2.4 A-B).

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Notice of the exhibition appeared here in February 2020, but I note it again since the show is scheduled to open (with new dates) later this month. CH

Press release (30 October 2019) for the exhibition:

In Sparkling Company: Glass and the Costs of Social Life in Britain during the 1700s
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, 22 May 2021 — 2 January 2022

Curated by Christopher Maxwell

The Museum’s spring exhibition, In Sparkling Company: Glass and Social Life in Britain during the 1700s, will open May 9, 2020. With exhibition design by Selldorf Architects, In Sparkling Company will present the glittering costume and jewelry, elaborate tableware, polished mirrors, and dazzling lighting devices that delighted the British elite, and helped define social rituals and cultural values of the period. Through a lens of glass, this exhibition will show visitors what it meant to be ‘modern’ in the 1700s, and what it cost.

The exhibition will also include a specially created virtual reality reconstruction of the remarkable and innovative spangled-glass drawing room completed in 1775 for Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland (1714–1786), and designed by Robert Adam (1728–1792), one of the leading architects and designers in Britain at the time. An original section of the room (which was dismantled in the 1870s), on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, will be on view in North America for the first time as part of the exhibition. It will be accompanied by Adam’s original colored design drawings for the interior, on loan from the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

“One medium that is often overlooked in scholarly discussions of 18th-century art, design, and material culture is glass,” said Christopher L. Maxwell, Curator of European Glass at CMoG, who has organized the exhibition. “In Britain, developments in glass formulas and manufacturing techniques resulted in new and better types of glass, from windowpanes and mirrors to heavy, clear ‘crystal’ tableware, perfectly suited to the tastes and needs of Britain’s growing urban elite whose wealth derived from new enterprises in finance, manufacture, international trade and colonial expansion. In Sparkling Company will demonstrate the many functions and meanings of glass in the exuberant social life of the 1700s.”

The smooth, ‘polished’ and reflective properties of glass perfectly embodied 18th-century ideals of sociability, in what is considered by many as the ‘age of politeness.’ As urban centers grew in size and prosperity, sociability became ever more sophisticated. The terms ‘polite’ and ‘polished’ were often used interchangeably in the numerous etiquette manuals eagerly read by those wishing to take their place in the polite world. Examples of such literature will be displayed alongside fashionable glass of the period, including embroidered costume, mirrors, a chandelier, cut glass lighting and tableware, and paste jewelry that accessorized and defined the lives of the ‘polished’ elite.

In the 1700s Britain was a prosperous and commercial nation. Its growing cities were hubs of industry, scientific advancement, trade and finance, and its colonies were expanding. British merchants navigated the globe carrying a multitude of cargoes: consumable, material, and human. Underpinning Britain’s prosperity was a far-reaching economy of enslavement, the profits of which funded the pleasures and innovations of the fashionable world, among them luxury glass. Alongside the beauty and innovation of glass during this period, the exhibition will consider the role of the material as a witness to colonization and slavery. Using artifacts and documents relating to the slave trade, it will reveal a connection that permeated all levels of British society.

From glittering costume and elaborately presented confectionery, to polished mirrors and dazzling chandeliers, glass helped define the social rituals and cultural values of the period. While it delighted the eyes of the wealthy, glass also bore witness to the horrors of slavery. Glass beads were traded for human lives while elegant glass dishes, baskets and bowls held sweet delicacies made with sugar produced by enslaved labor.

In Sparkling Company: Glass and Social Life in Britain during the 1700s will include important examples of 18th-century British glass, including:

• Glass embroidered costume: a spectacular men’s coat intricately decorated with glass ‘jewels’ made around 1780; a pair of women’s shoes covered in glass beads; shoe buckles set with glass paste jewels; jewelry and other accessories.
• Cut glass lighting and tableware, all made possible through the perfection of British lead ‘crystal’ in the late 1600s and exported throughout Europe and the British colonies in America and beyond.
• A number of large mirrors, which became the tell-tale sign of a fashionable interior, and reverse-painted glass meticulously decorated in China for the British luxury market.
• Opulent glass dressing room accessories, including a magnificent gilded silver dressing table set, with a looking glass as its centerpiece, made in about 1700 for the 1st Countess of Portland; perfume bottles, patch boxes, a dazzling cut glass washing basin and pitcher and an exquisite blue glass casket richly mounted in gilded metal, used in the ‘toilette’ a semi-public ritual of dressing which was adopted from France for men and women alike and became a feature of British aristocratic life in the 18th century.

Robert Adam, Design for the end wall of the drawing room at Northumberland House, 1770–73, pen, pencil, and colored washes, including pink, verdigris, and Indian yellow on laid paper, 52 × 102 cm (London: Sir John Soane’s Museum, SM Adam, volume 39/7; photo by Ardon Bar Hama).

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Glass Drawing Room for the Duke of Northumberland

Over the course of the 18th century, domestic interiors were transformed by the increasing presence of clear and smooth plate glass. A remarkable example is the lavish drawing room designed by the celebrated British architect Robert Adam for Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland (1714–1786) and his wife, the Duchess Elizabeth Percy (1716–1776), and completed in 1775. This unique room, measuring 36 by 22 feet, was paneled between dado rail and architrave with red glass panels sprinkled on the reverse with flakes of metal foil, like large-scale glitter. Similarly spangled green glass pilasters, large French looking glasses, and intricate neo-classical ornament in gilded lead completed the dazzling scheme. The room was altered in the 1820s and finally dismantled in the 1870s, when Northumberland House was demolished. Many of the panels were acquired by the V&A Museum in the 1950s, but their poor condition meant that they could only be partially displayed. The panels on display at The Corning Museum of Glass incorporate newly-conserved elements from the V&A’s stores.

In Sparkling Company will feature a virtual reality reconstruction of the drawing room, created by Irish production house Noho. Visitors to the exhibition will be transported into the interior, experiencing the original design scheme—last seen almost 200 years ago. This will be the first virtual-reality experience ever offered at CMoG. Visitors will also be able to see Robert Adam’s design drawings, on loan from the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, and a section of the original Northumberland House Glass Drawing Room on loan from the V&A Museum, which has never been on view in North America.

In Sparkling Company: Glass and Social Life in Britain during the 1700s will include loans from the Victoria and Albert Museum; Sir John Soane’s Museum; the Museum of London; the Fashion Museum, Bath; Royal Museums Greenwich; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Penn State University Library; Cleveland Museum of Art; and The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, In Sparkling Company: Reflections on Glass in the 18th-Century British World (The Corning Museum of Glass, 2020). Publication contributors include Marvin Bolt, Kimberly Chrisman Campbell, Jennifer Chuong, Melanie Doderer Winkler, Christopher Maxwell, Anna Moran, Marcia Pointon, and Kerry Sinanan.

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Note (added 16 September 2021) — The posting has been updated to include the revised title; the original title was In Sparkling Company: Glass and Social Life in Britain during the 1700s.

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