Nov 25, 201304:16 PMPoint of View

Mr. Glass: The Met Presents the Glassworks of Carlo Scarpa

Mr. Glass: The Met Presents the Glassworks of Carlo Scarpa

"Rigati e tessuti" glass pieces designed by Carlo Scarpa for Venini, ca. 1938–1940. Private collection; Chiara and Francesco Carraro Collection, Venice; European Collection

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The Italian architect Carlo Scarpa was a master of history—exposing it, layering it, and fusing it with modern forms to create some of the most exquisitely detailed post-World War II architecture in Venice and its environs. His work has found new relevance in recent years, as historical renovation and adaptive reuse have assumed larger roles in architectural practice. But a piece of Scarpa’s own history—a significant portion of his work before and during World War II—had long been missing.

Now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-1947 showcases some 300 pieces that Scarpa designed in Murano in the 1930s and 40s. All the drawings, photographs and other documentation for these multi-hued and brilliantly textured vases, bowls, urns, and platters were thought to have been lost in a 1971 fire. They were found two years ago, completely by chance, in a little-visited section of Venini’s glassworks and were first shown at the Venice Biennale last year, before traveling to New York.

In offering further insight into Scarpa’s methods, his meticulous handling of materials, and his wide-ranging inspirations, the current exhibition is a revelation. But in terms of placing these pieces in any sort of broader context—Venetian glass production, the fierce battles fought over aesthetics, the rise of fascism in Italy—this beautiful showcase is strangely reticent.

Green ovoid sommerso glass vase with gold-leaf inclusions and twisted ribbing on the interior, ca. 1934. Lent by The Steinberg Foundation, Courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass *Part of the Sommersi series, ca. 1934-36

Every single piece of glass on display is breathtaking. The exhibition is organized by manufacturing technique, a strategy that works well because it is how Scarpa himself worked, pushing the master craftsmen at Venini’s furnaces to reinvent old methods, year after year. The show begins with thick, cloudy pieces that look like they were carved from jade, but are actually made with a method called a bollicine, where potassium nitrate is added to hot molten glass. This produces millions of tiny bubbles and that prized translucence. But before you get the idea that Scarpa’s preference in glass was monolithic and weighty, there, two years later, is the Mezza Filligrina series of paper-thin bowls with impossibly fine stripes. There is no use looking for any kind of progression here, as the young Scarpa circles through one technique after another, revolutionizing and modernizing Venetian glassmaking traditions.

Every technique gets its own vitrine, designed by Annabelle Seldorf. The labels all contain a little thumbnail of Scarpa’s production drawings, a testament to how extensive the recently discovered archive is. His full-scale sketches are framed on the walls, some of them with very excited notes in a big hand—one irregular bowl with gloopy petals on its base bears the instruction, Fuso!!! Fuso!!! ("Melted!!! Melted!!!")

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