Conceived during a global lockdown that disproportionately affected women both in the workplace and at home, Unbreakable aims to counter the difficulties faced by female artists during this unprecedented time. Presenting 64 women from around the world who have shaped and supported Berengo Studio with their work in Murano, the exhibition honors women artists’ incredible spirit and puts them centre stage. Curators Nadja Romain (FR) and Koen Vanmechelen (BE) select iconic artworks from Berengo Studio’s vast thirty-year-old archive and combine them with an array of brand-new sculptures made earlier this year in the aftermath of Italy’s invasive Covid-19 lockdown.
Unbreakable: Women in Glass has been awarded the 2020 Bonhams Prize for The Venice Glass Week. The prize is awarded to the best project participating in the festival, and aims to inspire original and high-quality projects in the field of artistic glass. At Berengo Studio Adriano Berengo has worked for over thirty years collaborating with contemporary artists and bringing them to Murano to work with the maestros to elevate the world of glass and bring glass to the world of high art. Adriano Berengo announced his decision to donate the prize money of 1,000 euros to the non profit humanitarian organisation Women for Women International, a charity which provides practical and moral support to female survivors of war.
Born out of a pandemic
'Unbreakable is a breakthrough,’ says curator and artist Koen Vanmechelen, who’s been working with Berengo Studio since the nineties, resolutely from a new Venice. ‘This exhibition is a child of the pandemic. It represents a recovery, a renaissance, a big bang. The fragility of glass and the exclusive focus on women artists symbolize a new starting point. Together, both vital components represent care and a new world. Feminine strength and perseverance are crucial in this.
Nadja Romain, who collaborates with leading contemporary talents and cultural institutions worldwide, states: ‘Murano, the millennial center of glassmaking is predominantly if not exclusively dominated by men, as is the traditional figure of the maestro in his furnace.
This exhibition invites us to explore these female artists’ creative minds while they explore the versatile and fascinating art of making glass.
Venice functions as a laboratory of the future.’
This is noticeable in the idiosyncratic handling of themes and memes which emerge in Unbreakable. To name a few: Valeska Soares’ (BR) “Acqua Alta” (climate), “In the Darkest Blossom was a Mythical Beast” by Rina Banerjee (IN) (identity), Petah Coyne’s (US) hand-blown glass flower under a glass bell jar (a contemporary nature morte), Yin Xiuzhen’s (CN)’s “The Container of Thinking” (being versus seeming), Kate MccGwire’s (GB) “Siren” (hybridity) and Cornelia Parker’s (GB) “Black Window” (regeneration).
The artwork which Vanmechelen created for the exhibition’s campaign image, depicting a woman clamping a dagger-like glass object between her teeth, visualizes the core statement. ‘She is vulnerable but unbreakable,’ states Vanmechelen. ‘Life goes on, no matter what. Question is, can we change it by caring for the other.’ Romain continues: ‘Glass is a state more than a matter, neither solid nor liquid. It’s a moment of transformation and grace. It’s a movement and a dance. Between the female artist and the glass maestro. It has the delicacy of lace but requires psychical strength. It’s difficult, dangerous, and unpredictable.’
This paradox is clearly visible in Liliana Moro’s (IT) “La Spada Nella Roccia”: a glass sword in a glass rock. Whoever takes the sword can lead. Or in Fiona Banner’s (GB) glass scaffolding, which juxtaposes the brutal and the delicate and Bonvicini’s (IT) glass belts that unravel the relationship between power and gender. Among the artworks on show also the ‘Enlightening Books” of Italian artist Chiara Dynys. Shirazeh Houshiary’s (IR) architectural “Flicker,” and the impressive chandelier of Joana Vasconcelos (PT).
Italian artist Federica Marangoni was the first artist to return to Berengo Studio after the worldwide lockdown. For this exhibition, she created two new sculptures: “Work Monument to the Female Job.” Recent works have also been made by Charlotte Gyllenhammar (SE), Judy Chicago (US), Karen LaMonte (US), Enrica Borghi (IT), Maria Grazia Rosin (IT), Laure Prouvost (FR), Lucy Orta (GB), and Maria Thereza Alves (BR).
A unique catalogue will be produced with contributions from among others Susan Fisher Sterling, Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., Gabriella Belli, Director of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Agnes Husslein-Arco, who dives into the gendered history of art in Austria, and legendary glass master Lino Tagliapietra on his work with female assistants as well as a text by Rosa Barovier Mentasti, who explores the role of women in the history of Murano furnaces.
“In history, the male side of humanity has rarely valued women for fear of losing power,” concludes Koen Vanmechelen. “Time has long been due to name legendary icons — inspiring artworks signed by women so that history can no longer be stolen. A memorable glass expo on Murano’s island can kick off a fragile yet determined movement that reflects the harshness of life that has no fear of being broken. The invisibility and transparency of glass shape a new generation while healing scars from history.
Opening photo: Unbreakable: Women in Glass, Exhibition View, photo credit Francesco Allegretto
Photo of Koen Vanmechelen, photo credit Francesco Allegretto
Photo of Nadja Romain, photo credit Thea Hawlin
Monica Bonvicini, In My Hand, 2019, photo credit Francesco Allegretto; Courtesy the Artist and Berengo Studio
Shirazeh Houshiary, Flicker, 2016, photo credit Francesco Allegretto; Courtesy the Artist and Berengo Studio
Chiara Dynys, Enlightening Books, 2018, photo credit Francesco Allegretto; Courtesy Building, Milan
Liliana Moro, La Spada nella Roccia, 2019, photo credit Francesco Allegretto; Courtesy the Artist and Berengo Studio