The title of States of Flux is one clue: Leana Quade’s fun Pittsburgh Glass Center exhibit is mostly about playing with the medium. A second tip-off is that on entering the gallery, you’re given the rare chance to literally play with art — a multi-colored, please-touch collection of triangular springs crafted from single long “wires” of hot-formed glass fine as pencil leads. Press gently and watch them bounce back.
“I attempt to provide the viewer with an opportunity to perceive glass in a new way and think twice about how it acts, moves and functions,” writes the Cleveland-based Quade in press materials. Most of the exhibit’s 45 or so works are variations on what Quade calls her “spirals,” with titles like “Spiral Intension 16” and “Vortex 3.” Most rest individually inside their own clear-glass vessels, some seemingly hollow, others with the spiral suspended in solid glass. Done in green, lavender, gold and red, they suggest Slinkies, though a few might be organic forms (abstract leeches, perhaps) attempting escape. “Coulage,” a minute-long video capturing ribbons of molten glass dancing through water, reads like a found abstract.
Larger works include two “Weeping Woman” sculptures, each with a female figure that “‘weeps’ saltwater and color to create crystal formations” from salt. The formations, resembling coral, are pale yellow and blue and grow continually, gradually obscuring the figure itself. The sprawling floor-level installation “Tetrapod Mountain” consists of white plaster tetrapods (think “oversized jacks”) piled on a spill of coal slag; on one face of the mountain, another doll-sized white-plaster nude perches, as if at seaside.
While those three partly figurative works are the closest Quade gets to metaphor, the installation “Soothing Anxiety” suggests meditation as an option. Walk inside this semi-sanctuary, which is like a 7-foot-tall wardrobe screen made of dozens of large kiln-cast-glass squares of varying translucence mounted in a metal frame, illuminated by subtle, ever-changing light projections. Each square bears 12 pyramidal shapes whose sharp peaks belie the wombish feel.
The exhibit’s centerpiece is the four-minute video “Release,” in which the artist attaches a ratchet strap to the short ends of a 7-foot rectangle of tempered sheet glass and slowly bends it into a U, testing its limits. The climax is impressive. A replica of the glass plate sits at your feet, but you can’t play with that one.