I've always enjoyed exploring South Jersey. But Millville, near Vineland and known for its early glass factories, sawmills, and iron foundries, was still on my to-do list until recently, when I visited the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center to see the group show "Emanation 2017" at the center's Museum of American Glass.
There are many things to love about WheatonArts. There's a rendition of a general store straight out of Mayberry, for instance, and ersatz Victorian buildings with gift shops selling objects crafted at Wheaton's glass studio. At the studio itself, you can watch those objects being made by artists manipulating molten glass.
The Wheaton property also has a 19th-century, one-room schoolhouse; a pretty pond inhabited by otters; a nature walk; and flocks of uncommonly large ducks. But the real draw for those seeking contemporary artists' efforts in glass will be Emanation 2017, curated by glass studio creative director Hank Murtha Adams.
Invited by Adams to use the WheatonArts facility for experimentation — and in a few cases, to work in glass for the first time — artists Emily Brown, Vanessa German, Michael Joo, Lorna Simpson, Therman Statom, Matthew Szösz, and the art team Flock the Optic have created some of most dazzling, unusual, and physically ambitious works in glass I've ever seen.
There are two installations here that could be accurately described as awesome.
Joo, a Korean American conceptual artist who has worked in a variety of mediums, has created a life-size, mainly glass work space out of cast and blown glass. His Simultaneity Bias includes a cast-glass ladder, pallets, and water jugs, among other furnishings.
German's colorful, multifigure, multimedia installation of embellished figures, The Parade of Women Against the Myth of Certainty, or, How Not to Die of Lies, is as outspoken and over-the-top as its title. It's clearly an offspring of her work as a performance artist and community activist in Pittsburgh's Homewood neighborhood, where she's the founder of the community arts initiatives Love Front Porch and the ARThouse.
Some of the show's other artists made individual works, and they're no less ambitious.
Brown, a Philadelphia artist known for her fluidly rendered ink paintings of woodland scenes, and new to glass as a medium, rose to the challenge of Adams' invitation with a group of sublime glass vase forms that she painted with vitreous enamel using her usual delicate touch.
Flock the Optic members dotted the WheatonArts landscape with enormous nests full of monumental glass eggs — perhaps inspired by those ducks — and have commandeered the schoolhouse with an esoteric but charming installation involving glass, sound, and motorized birds.
Colorful blown-glass head forms by Statom, displayed in front of painted backgrounds, call to mind the work of Matisse as well as the headlike jugs made by the 19th-century enslaved South Carolina jugmaker David Drake, known as "Dave the Potter."
Simpson, best known for her works pairing photographs and text, is represented by a single glass piece that looks like melting ice. Some might consider this one modest work a slight, but it's a memorable image.
You can't help but gravitate to Szösz's translucent glass casts of inflatable objects, which here look like ancient relics. The circular Sieve is probably cast from a ring-shaped life preserver, but the way it catches ambient light gives it an eerie glow, as if inhabited by a spirit.
"Emanation 2017" through Dec. 31 at WheatonArts, 1501 Glasstown Rd., Millville, N.J. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets: $10 (adults), $9 (seniors 62+), $7 (students); free for children under 6. Information: 856-825-6800 or www.wheatonarts.com.
Closer to home, the Philadelphia artist collective AUTOMAT, whose gallery has been temporarily closed because of the recent fire at the Vox Populi building, is getting its closeup at the Rowan University Art Gallery in a group show called The Paraphernalia of Being.
It's an engaging collection of modest paintings and sculpture — no photographs, videos, or installations — by AUTOMAT members.
Some standouts includes Jillian Schley's objectlike paintings on canvas, Lucas Kelly's sculptural send-ups of drearily perfect suburban life, and Nadine Beauharnois' playful papier-mâché and fiberfill-stuffed pantyhose sculptures.