Essays in typescript from the archives
by WILLIAM WARMUS [This draft 1988]
Vizner Bowl image from entrance to Fire and Form exhibition at the Norton Museum of Art,
Palm Beach, Florida January - March, 2003 (curated by William Warmus)
A building crane labors under the red, white, and blue flag of the Czech
republic. Workers. Inside a darkened room, sheer curtains across the deep
set window. This amber bowl below. Take it in your hands, heavy now and
of another hue. The matte surface scuffs fingertips. Go ahead, go outside.
Vizner's bowl, modest and unsigned, takes blue sky, floats it on a sheeny
hollow. The red flag dissolves.
I confess to forgetting Vizner's first visit to Corning in 1979 when his
work caused a sensation at the (New Glass ) exhibition. In 1980 he opened
his home and studio in Czechoslovakia to Tom Buechner's camera and this
time I had my notebook ready: "...Vizner lives in a pastoral setting
in Zdar nad Sazava and makes containers of monolithic simplicity and
subtlety. His striking new house in a wood by a pond is sided as well as roofed with
intricately cut and lapped slate tiles....Inside, the drawing room is literally
that, with a large drawing table against the glass wall overlooking the
pond. Against the walls and separating the handsomely appointed living
area are shelves containing single examples of his work. The well ordered
workshop in which he painstakingly grinds the cast blocks into their final
shapes is adjacent to the house."(1)
Together we shared his wife's freshly baked strudel and drank vodka. A
stream of visitors to this remote haven had just begun, and Frantisek Vizner,
tall and sturdy--perhaps even a bit stubborn--seemed surprised with success.
By my visit in 1985 he was overwhelmed, his heart infirm. Vizner's work
revealed a continuing obstinacy as he persisted in forming by hand objects
that he himself insisted could be machine made. Resolutely unambiguous
vessels surrounded us. This man was repeating, under duress of the most
difficult manual labor, form after form which he regarded as prototypes
for mass production. In the West, a large audience now sought out his work
and perceived it instead as non- functional: Analogous to a rectangular
stretched canvas or even the human figure, the vessel was regarded by many
artists such as Frantisek Vizner (1936--) as a starting point for metaphorical
expression beyond literal interpretation....Although neither intended to
act as a container, nor able to do so because of changes made to the structure,
objects such as his solidly cast and ground bowl were to meet resistance
as sculpture.(2)" Vizner's intent had become murky.
An elegant lecture at the Glass Art Society conference in Corning in 1984
sought to clarify his own stand: "The vase always was and still remains
my positive destiny in glass...I look upon the contemporary decline in interest
in the functional value of glass and the preference for free creation as
fashion....The vase presents a frightening and at the same time beautiful
limitation of functions: the simple limitation produced by the shape of
the hand and then the law of pure production technology.(3)" The intent
is clear. Vizner has not set out to change the world, rather to experience
it. The vase defines his limit. Take it as a vase and choose to use it
or not. But make it into sculpture and the iron hand of art forbids use.
In setting himself craft limits Vizner enriches rather than impoverishes
In 1985, the interpreter had come up with "vessel same as prehistoric"
and Vizner replied to my puzzled expression with cupped hands. This good
work is a heartfelt meditation over the origins of things, both those veiled
in the depths of time and those born from human industry. He said that
he puts as much time into creating an object as "its life will last"
which I gather means that time endows wisdom. A pensive attitude toward
the vessel has led Vizner into a life of solitude, one where "... detail
is the means by which I try to express the magic of the present." (4)
In the United States this approach is exceptional and a reminder that Czechoslovakian
society is profoundly different from our own, as the Czech writer Grusa
is keenly aware: "...what matters is not to change the world, but to
experience it and try to understand it--this is the only way an individual
may undergo a transformation leading possibly to the transformation of the
world as a whole." (5); In America we promote change: Vizner's bowls
become non-functioning sculptures. In his native land, a bowl is understood
as a bowl. In America, we strive to get Vizner into the art world. In
Czechoslovakia, Vizner wants into the factory.
There are words whose pairing is uneasy. Repetition and originality. Power
and legacy. If you repeat yourself, are you original? If you are powerful,
will history adore you? Vizner's work remains unsigned and lonely in the
world. Denied the power of mass production, the craftsman has returned
to origins. Vizner repeats original forms, revealing a richness in repetition
not evident in mass production. Vizner's legacy might have been a vast
multitude of merely beautiful bowls: it's not. It is a sympathy for the
glass, the tools, a studio, these few similar vases. These few exceedingly
lovely similar vases.
Imagine him at work. Seated before a solid slab of glass he begins to draw.
Nearby is a raw, transparent cylinder bisected with the mark of a red crayon.
There are heavy stone wheels and delicate stencils. On a shelf sets a
thick, roughed out bowl, like a block of wood partly finished under the
woodcutter's chisel. Its cavity holds a little water left from the grinding
process and catches the morning light. Next to it, a shallow bowl sits
split down the middle: unpredictable glass. There is no burning furnace
in this place, the glass is factory cast. Nothing much changes here. Thought
and fancy dissolve into the solitude.
This essay first appeared in New Work (now Glass) magazine in 1988.
1--Thomas Buechner and William Warmus, (Czechoslovakian Diary:1980 ). Corning:
The Museum, 1981. Page 9.
2--Susanne Framtz, (Artists and Glass: A History of International Studio
Glass ). Ann Arbor: UMI, 1987. Page 80.
3--Frantisek Vizner in The Glass Art Society Journal 1984- 85 . Pages 94-95.
4--See note three above, GAS Journal
5--See Vaclav Pisecky's review of (Generace 35-45 ) by Karel Hvizdala,
in the (Times Literary Supplement ), October 9-15, 1987. Page 1112.