Rob Wynne: FLOAT
New York–based artist Rob Wynne (born 1950) works in a variety of mediums, ranging from hand-embroidered paintings and collage to sculpture and digital photography, but at heart he is an alchemist. In recent years he has experimented increasingly with molten glass: each glass piece produced with his assistants is individually hand-poured, without a mold, and silvered after cooling. Then the multiple pieces are shaped into dynamic, often expansive wall installations whose individual components sometimes number in the hundreds. Although the entire process is highly methodical and guided by preparatory drawings, the multifaceted end product is ultimately inflected by chance. Wynne is drawn to what he calls the material’s “alchemical nature”: at once ephemeral and literal, transformative and obdurate, glass is the ideal medium through which to communicate an elusive multiplicity of meanings.
Wynne transforms not only materials but words, taking phrases from literature and popular culture, detaching them from their original contexts, and repurposing them in cryptic or contradictory ways. Whether poetic meditations, tongue-in-cheek quotations, syntactical riffs on the structure of words, or double entendres inspired by Marcel Duchamp, Wynne’s metamorphoses of language lie at the center of his conceptual practice.
The title of Wynne’s gallery activation, and of his embroidered painting shown nearby, also alludes to the ephemeral nature of images. Featuring fifteen works—seemingly floating within the American Art galleries and placed in direct dialogue with selected works from the collection—the installation invites a creatively disruptive aesthetic experience. Wynne’s silvered glass pieces explore, and slightly skew, how we experience works of art—creating reflective pauses and jolts of surprise that reveal the collection anew.
Rob Wynne: FLOAT is co-curated by Jennifer Y. Chi, former Deputy Director and Chief Curator, and Margarita Karasoulas, Assistant Curator, American Art, Brooklyn Museum.
The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of an anonymous donor. Additional support is provided by the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc.
Special thanks to Gavlak, Los Angeles/Palm Beach.
Driven by a fascination with reflection, invisibility, and disappearance, I have made numerous works from mirrored glass over the last twenty years. A hard, dangerous substance (originally a hot, perilous liquid), glass is vulnerable to breakage but can also last forever.
My experiments with glass were at first catalyzed by pure accident. A ladle of glass slipped out of my hand and spilled onto the floor, making a spectacular splat that resembled a cosmic explosion. I thought it would be wonderful to put silver on the back so it would continuously glimmer. I realized I could control the accidents and began making poured letters and biomorphic shapes. My first text piece spelled out the word INVISIBLE in blown glass, fabricated with the help of technicians. Since then, I have explored the material, exposing limits and extending its essence, making poured glass texts and abstractions referring to language and art history.
The works in this installation are intended to provide reflective breathing space for viewers taking in the 5th Floor collection. Accompanying the chorus of nineteenth-century neoclassical figures standing before you when the elevator opens, for example, EXTRA LIFE extends the entry’s illusion of timelessness. For me, looking at art produces a mental elegiac pause. As I recognize what I am looking at, I simultaneously sense a gathering of feelings. There are certain touchstones in the American Art galleries that resemble such natural pauses, producing a growing sense of history and pleasure in the outpouring of sensory detail and information.
When I started to do a little research into specific pieces, such as Seated Faun by Janet Scudder, I discovered artists I didn’t know and started to think about the time and milieu in which these works were made. So began a gradual education and expanded interest in the historical background and depth of the American collection. Art refers to art and also expresses its time and place. For this project at the Brooklyn Museum, I use obdurate glass to represent flowing liquid, thereby subverting and intermingling with this complex collection.
May 17, 2018
The Brooklyn Museum is pleased to present Rob Wynne: FLOAT, a site-specific activation putting the artist’s signature glass installations in dialogue with works in the American Art galleries. The presentation features sixteen works, mostly made from hand-poured, mirrored glass—some composed of over a thousand individual pieces—juxtaposed with selections from the Museum’s collection of historical American art. The installation will create unexpected encounters and conceptual resonances between the works on view.
New York–based Rob Wynne (born 1950) works in a wide range of mediums, including painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography, as well as experimentation with glass. Inspired by a chance encounter two decades ago, he began using hand-poured and mirrored glass in a series of large-scale works. In a labor-intensive, multistep process, each glass piece made is the result of extensive collaboration and virtuosic technique.
Rob Wynne: FLOAT exemplifies the artist’s commitment to exploring art and language. Using appropriated imagery and borrowed words and phrases detached from their original contexts, Wynne employs language in unexpected, cryptic, or contradictory ways that generate new meanings.
Greeting visitors in the 5th Floor lobby is the new, large-scale installation EXTRA LIFE (2018), a vortex comprising hundreds of pieces of glass that frame the group of nineteenth-century marble sculptures—in a space transformed as light from the window changes over the course of the day. The celestial shape of the installation speaks to the nearby sculpture by Randolph Rogers, The Lost Pleiad (circa 1874–75), whose female subject personifies one of the seven stars in the Pleiades constellation.
Wynne’s MASQUERADE (2014) hangs in the gallery devoted to colonial American portraiture, placed above the portraits by Samuel Waldo of Mr. and Mrs. David Leavitt (circa 1820–25). The pairing alludes to the artificiality inherent in portraiture, as sitters choose to reveal or conceal certain aspects of their identities.
In another pairing, ALL THE WORLDLY POSSESSIONS OF THE PIED PIPER (2018) is installed next to Janet Scudder’s Seated Faun (1924), a part-human, part-goat figure inspired by classical mythology. Scudder, relatively unknown today, was famed in her time for creating ornamental sculptures for gardens. Wynne’s text is inspired by Robert Browning’s poetry and suggests a connection between Scudder’s patrons and the fairytale of the Pied Piper, who led off the children of Hamlin when the stingy citizens refused to pay him for piping away the town’s rats.
I SAW MYSELF SEE MYSELF (2018), a phrase inspired by the title of Beatrice Wood’s autobiography, is situated above Kem Weber’s modernist, chrome Vanity with Mirror, from 1934. Wood was an important early twentieth-century artist, and the placement of Wynne’s piece in a gallery devoted to the rise of the modern woman is particularly poignant. The work also makes use of the mirror in the Weber vanity to highlight the mediated nature of seeing, as viewers will see themselves in the mirror.
Other works on view include DROPS (2018), which draws out the emotional resonance of Hiram Powers’s famous Greek Slave (1866), widely understood in the period as a response to the Civil War and to the ongoing debate over the legacy of slavery in America; WATERFALL (2016), a vibrantly colored glass sculpture inspired by Hokusai’s woodblock prints; and PUSH (2018), related to the Native American objects shown nearby. Taken together, such dialogues stimulate fresh readings of familiar objects, revealing the collection anew.
“For this presentation at the Brooklyn Museum, my works are intended to provide reflective breathing space for viewers taking in the complex and varied works of the American collection,” states Wynne. “I have chosen certain touchstones in the collection that resemble such natural pauses, producing a growing sense of history and pleasure in the outpouring of sensory detail and information.”
Wynne’s work has been exhibited widely, including in solo exhibitions at Gavlak Gallery, Los Angeles/Palm Beach, Florida (2017); Locks Gallery, Philadelphia (2017); and Galerie Mitterrand, Paris (2016); and featured in group exhibitions at the Flag Art Foundation, New York (2013); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); and the McNay Art Museum, Austin, Texas (2005). Wynne’s work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.
Rob Wynne: FLOAT is co-curated by Jennifer Y. Chi, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, and Margarita Karasoulas, Assistant Curator, American Art, Brooklyn Museum.
This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc.
Special thanks to Gavlak, Los Angeles/Palm Beach.