Ancient, boring glass
The YUAG’s current exhibition on ancient glass titled “Drink That You May Live,” which runs until Nov. 12, makes for an odd experience. Comprised of roughly 130 vessels, the exhibition traces the evolution of glasswork from its origins in third century B.C. Mesopotamia to the early Roman Empire. While the pieces on display are undeniably rare and beautiful, the most captivating aspect of the exhibit — videos of various glassmaking techniques playing on iPads next to the vessels — can be enjoyed anywhere one has access to the Internet and a wireless device handy. I worried for a moment that I was falling into a millennial trap staring at the screens, but my fear was assuaged once I admitted to myself that the vessels simply weren’t that enthralling.
From a thematic standpoint, I came into the exhibition with an idea of what to expect, and that is exactly what I found: vessels of various shapes and sizes, colors and designs, with a story told mostly through informational placards of how glassware developed as an art and transformed into a trade. There were no surprises, which led me to wonder briefly whether it is only the unexpected that creates intrigue in art. Maybe, I thought, in the sense that as many times as we view the same masterpiece, we are still shocked by the artist’s genius with each subsequent viewing.
The opposite was happening as I perused the collection of vessels at the YUAG. While I had favorites — fragments of creamy lapis-lazuli glass from ancient Egypt, and a jar reminiscent Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire — nothing in particular stood out as extraordinary to me. I think this was the case in part because many of the pieces were purely decorative, which is fine if you’re a collector or deeply invested in design, but isn’t that thrilling otherwise. (For what it’s worth, my only fellow visitors, an elderly couple, concurred, deciding within a minute of entering that the exhibition was too specialized and not for them.) The videos served to humanize the pieces by demonstrating the effort and care that went into each, and conveyed the sense that glassmaking is both an art and a craft. This, however, it turns out I could have learned from the comfort of my dorm, or even on the elevator ride to another floor in the YUAG.