Illuminated Glass at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London

The glass collections located on the 4th floor of the V&A Museum in South Kensington feature a small but varied selection of contemporary pieces by artists from around the world (displayed in Room 129, The Märit Rausing Gallery). Among the most interesting exhibits on show at the time of my visit in early February 2019 was the figurative sculpture “Brick Man” (2002) by British ceramicist and glass sculptor Max Jacquard.

“Brick Man” (2002) by Max Jacquard, displayed in the Contemporary Glass gallery at the V&A, South Kensington, London. Photo: Carol Dixon.

The life-size body of Jacquard’s shrouded man was created using sand-blasted pieces of cut glass, bound together with wires and suspended from a column just above eye level to give the impression that this fragile, mummy-like, patchwork glass figure was levitating overhead. The label mentions the sculptor’s intention to convey “the sense of isolation, self-protection and perhaps a certain brittle vulnerability felt by the artist’s ego,” with the glass framework serving (in an ironic way) as a “protective shell.” The delicacy and lightness of the materials gave this piece a spectral quality that was both intriguing and mesmerizing to observe, and provoked many thoughts about the precarity of human existence.

“Golden Horn” Turkish basin (c. 1545) displayed in the Islamic Art section of the Asia and Middle Eastern galleries at the V&A, South Kensington, London. Photo: Carol Dixon.

Other beautiful glass exhibits – both ancient and modern – that caught my eye as I wandered through the galleries included a highly decorated 16th century Turkish basin, created using a repetitive pattern of blue and turquoise scrolls described as the “Golden Horn” (c. 1545), and named after an inlet near Istanbul where this design has been commonly found on ceramics and silverware dating from that period.

“Dondolante Serena” (2000) by American artist Toots Zynsky, displayed in the V&A’s Contemporary Glass gallery, South Kensington, London. Photo: Carol Dixon.

In contrast, Toots Zynsky’s colourful sculpture “Dondolante Serena” (2000) represented one of the most contemporary pieces on display, made using a process of drawn glass thread, fused together and hot worked into a kaleidoscopic, fan-shaped vessel.

Seattle-based artist Dale Chihuly’s sculptures feature very prominently at the V&A, with his blown glass Chandelier (2001) occupying the central space in the Rotunda at the main entrance to the South Kensington site. This work, and others – such as the piece shown below, titled “Deep Blue and Bronze Gold Persian Set” (1989) – form part of a collection of highly decorated, rib-moulded sculptures whose organic shapes and intricate assemblages of bulbs, spirals, trailing branches and conical-shaped flutes are informed by the historic techniques of the Murano glassworks in Venice as well as earlier designs for ancient vessels and bottles found in Persia and Egypt.

“Deep Blue and Bronze Gold Persian Set” (1989) by American artist Dale Chihuly, displayed in the V&A’s Contemporary Glass gallery, South Kensington, London. Photo: Carol Dixon.

For further information about these exhibits and other pieces in the V&A’s glass collections, please visit the website

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