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Friday, July 20, 2012

Recent Acquisitions: Local Artist Helps Combat Museum Fatigue

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 7:30 AM

Copper Patina Bench by John Lewis (b.1943), 2009. The bench is cast of glass and copper foil.
  • Copper Patina Bench by John Lewis (b.1943), 2009. The bench is cast of glass and copper foil.

Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.

Even curators aren't immune to museum fatigue. On a trip to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Julie Muniz was happy to encounter the Please Be Seated program, which favors studio furniture over unremarkable benches.

"I had this vision of a gallery filled with amazing studio glass, and in the center, instead of regular gallery seating, would be this beautiful glass bench that visitors could sit on," remembers the associate curator at the Oakland Museum of California.

John Lewis, the Bay Area artist who opened one of the first glass studios in 1969, came to mind. By combining the artistic vision of architecture with the medium of glass, Lewis has made substantial contributions to the field. His work has been commissioned by museums around the world, including New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Muniz was planning an upcoming exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the American Studio Glass Movement, but the museum had only a few, smaller sculptural pieces of glass by Lewis. She sought out the artist, who seemed equally excited at the prospect. Muniz then turned to the Women's Board in search of funds for the new acquisitions, who unanimously approved the purchase.

While physical interaction with a piece has proven to sustain visitor interest, it also warrants panic among a museum's conservation staff. The artist's intent, however, won over in the end. According to Lewis, "the Copper Patina Bench was one of several versions of a design that incorporated the idea of a "strainger" made of glass that would provide visual interest, as well as functional support."

Muniz believes the bench will greatly enrich visitor experience, not to mention combat museum fatigue. "Part of the objectives of the Oakland Museum [of California] is to make visitors feel more comfortable in the galleries," Muniz explained. Visitors will be able to rest their tired feet without feeling the pressure to immediately move on to the next piece of art: They'll already be sitting on it.

John Lewis' bench will be a part of the forthcoming exhibition, Playing With Fire: Artists of the California Studio Glass Movement, which opens on October 27, 2012.

The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak (at 10th Street), Oakland. The museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. General admission is $12.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.

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