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Glass and steel fused together

The sculptures of Albert Paley at Museum of Glass

“Horizontal Passage,” steel and glass by Albert Paley. Photo courtesy Museum of Glass

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I was truly impressed by "Complementary Contrasts: The Glass and Steel Sculptures of Albert Paley" at Museum of Glass, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Prior to visiting this show, I had seen only photographs of Paley's work, which is much more powerful when seen in person. Photographs do not come close to capturing the scale, color nuances and textures of his steel and glass sculptures. When two of the largest galleries at MOG are filled with his massive sculptures, it can be overwhelming, so I advise viewers to give themselves plenty of time to study each piece up close and to take in the large group as a beautiful world of form and color.

Paley's sculptures are large, but not gigantic, averaging around three-by-four-by-five feet in dimension but looking much more massive than their actual size. They create the feel, if not the actual appearance, of huge metal and glass machines such as locomotives barreling down the tracks, or of animals or humans wrestling with one another. There is a tremendous sense of movement -- unrelenting, fast movement such as in the art of the Italian futurism movement of the early 20th century combined with the massiveness of John Chamberlain's sculptures created from wrecked cars.

The term "complementary contrasts" in the show's title perfectly describes the major emphasis of Paley's sculpture. "Glass pairs beautifully with steel because it creates a dialogue of opposites. The contour, clarity and color of glass -- metal responds to that. I want to literally fuse them together. I have always liked that idea: yin and yang, a sense of unity," Paley wrote.

As an artist and a critic, I have always held that unity within variety or the balance or blending of opposites is a hallmark of great art, and these principles are at the heart of Paley's art. Glass is clear, transparent, fragile; steel is hard, opaque, unbreakable. Opposites in every way. In Paley's sculpture these opposites clash like warriors in battle, and yet they become indistinguishable in places. The glass is not always and everywhere transparent and fragile in appearance; in some of these works the glass is as opaque and solid in appearance as the steel, which in some places appears as pliable as slabs of leather. The first piece to greet the eye when entering the gallery is "Divide," a piece that epitomizes the duality and contrasts of all the works. It is broken into two halves with abstract, tubular forms on each side that look like some kind of steampunk machine being carried on a flat-bed rail car which also looks like a skateboard made of a flat slab of steel resting on cylindrical rollers.

Also remindful of a flat-bed rail car is "Split Relationship," twisted sheets of flat steel and rectangular glass blocks stacked in a V shape on the top. It can be seen as two forms or figures, similar but contrasting, as the forms in "Divide," or as a single object or figure being split asunder by the V-shaped glass. The glass is clear but solid and heavy, while the steel is luminescent with sparkling red ochre and purple colors.

In addition to the many sculptures, the walls are filled with loose and energetic studies in pencil and graphite, showing that Paley is as competent with two dimensions as with three.

Also on display at MOG is a show of glass art by Michael E. Taylor, which is conceptual and luminous and based in large part on science and math.

"Complementary Contrasts: The Glass and Steel Sculptures of Albert Paley,"
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 3, $5-$15, free to members, free Third Thursday, Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma, 866.468.7386, museumofglass.org

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