The exhibition ‘Glorious Glass: Optical glass art from the Czech Republic and Slovakia’ was supposed to be on display at Escher in The Palace until 8 November. Unfortunately, events have overtaken us. Due to the developments surrounding Covid-19, the museum will be closing for at least two weeks from 5 November. Thus putting an abrupt end to the Glorious Glass exhibition. For those keen to reminisce about the exhibition or for those who missed out, our curator Judith Kadee has written an interesting article about the unique collection of optical glass featured in the exhibition.
Graphic art and glass art—at first glance these art forms seem to have little in common. In the exhibition Glorious Glass: Optical glass art from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Escher in The Palace is nevertheless presenting graphic art by M.C. Escher alongside beautiful optical glass. Both art forms have their own visual language and medium, but have an important similarity: namely, playing with the eye. In his prints, M.C. Escher makes you look at the same work several times in amazement. They make you wonder: is what I see really correct? At second glance, a print by Escher often turns out to contain other secrets that you had not seen before. A playful quest that can go on endlessly.
This principle also fits optical glass from the Czech Republic and Slovakia very well. Optical glass is all about moving and being moved. The sculptures markedly play with reflection and light. Many glass sculptures look different in the round. Take, for example, Object (2002) by Pavol Hlôška. The centre of this work of art contains scraps of gold leaf. From one angle this appears to be a small amount, but when you walk round it, the chips seem to spread throughout the glass. A beautiful optical illusion. Miloš Balgavý’s sculpture Sphere (2002) is a round reflective sphere that is the same from any angle. But because the glass of the sphere is a mirror, the viewer’s experience differs considerably depending on the angle from which the work is viewed. The effect only becomes really clear when you walk round it with several people and you look at the distortion of the person opposite you. Suddenly bottom is up and left can suddenly be right.
The optical glass from the Czech Republic and Slovakia on display comes from the unique collection of the Modern Glass Foundation. This foundation was established to preserve the glass art from the former private collection of Valentine Zaremba (1936-2017) and Sam Jonker (1930-2009) in order to show it to a wide audience. Sam Jonker and Valentine Zaremba were both great glass art enthusiasts and collected modern glass with great passion. Their fondness for many years has brought together a unique collection of Czech and Slovak optical glass. They maintained a good relationship with the artists, of which the Czech artist Václav Cígler is perhaps the most important. Václav Cígler founded the Glass in Architecture Department at the Art Academy in Bratislava in 1965. Here Cígler trains a new generation of glass artists, who not only see glass art as applied art, but convert it into abstract-geometric autonomous artworks with their own signature. The first sculptures bought by Jonker and Zaremba were therefore by Cígler. Jonker and Zaremba subsequently made several purchases of glass art from the most important pupils of Cígler, including from Miloš Balgavý, Štěpán Pala, Zora Palová and Pavol Hlôška, whose work therefore features abundantly in the collection and exhibition Glorious Glass.
Jonker was fortunate enough to be able to combine his passion with his work on several occasions. During his long career in the insurance world, he has served as Vice President of the Board of Directors of Nationale-Nederlanden and has been a member of the Board of Directors of ING Group. In the first of these capacities he was the master builder of the new head office of Nationale-Nederlanden on the Weena in Rotterdam. He invited Cígler to create a gigantic 26-metre-tall glass work of art, which reached from the ground to the high ceiling. Other work by Cígler and his students was also purchased for the Nationale-Nederlanden collection. Several of them were present at the opening of the new head office by Princess Margriet in 1992. When Jonker went on to become Chairman of the Dutch Association of Insurers, he revived his passion for glass. For a new site in The Hague, the hall was adorned with a large vertical obelisk by Zora Palová and work was also purchased from her husband Štěpán Pala. The building was opened by Queen Beatrix in 1996, who was also a lover of art and optical glass.
Sam Jonker and Valentine Zaremba’s passion for glass art and artists went well beyond a private collection. With their passion for art and the close relationship they maintained with Václav Cígler and his students, they not only created an internationally renowned collection, but also contributed to knowledge of and attention to Czech and Slovak optical glass in the Netherlands. Organised in collaboration with Kunstmuseum Den Haag, the exhibition Glorious Glass: Optical glass art from the Czech Republic and Slovakia featured a unique selection of the most beautiful optical glass from Jonker and Zaremba’s former collection. Two glass sculptures are to be included in the permanent exhibition on the second floor, thus enabling you to marvel at the possibilities of optical glass even once the Glorious Glass exhibition has come to a close.