Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Glass Garden: Of Bees, Glassblowers & Judi Harvest's "Denatured"

Maestro Giorgio Giuman looks on while two of his sons work at Fornace Linea Arianna
Artists always hope that their new shows will generate a buzz. Judi Harvest has assured her new art will--quite literally--by establishing a colony of some 40,000 bees in a garden she's created especially for them in what was once an abandoned lot behind the Linea Arianna glass factory on Murano.

Entitled Denatured: Honeybees + Murano, Harvest's paintings and works in glass, which are concerned with the so-called Colony Collapse Disorder that is annihilating bee populations world-wide and posing serious threat to food production, will be on display at the Scuola dei Battioro e Tiraoro beside the church of San Stae until October 31.  The garden at the glass factory in Murano is intended to go on for much longer than that, and is meant as a concrete practical response to the bee crisis, as well as a means of calling attention to the dwindling number of glass works on Murano.

One large glass bee and 40,000 real bees in the garden of Linea Arianna on Murano created by Judi Harvest
You can read much more about bees, glass, and Judi Harvest's Denatured on her website at: Or watch a video about the creation of the garden on Murano, and about her various collaborators on Denatured, at

Recently, Jen and I were lucky enough to be invited by a kind friend to join her on a private tour of the garden and Linea Arianna. Our guide was il maestro of the furnace himself, Giorgio Giuman, who's worked with a number of architects and artists, among them, Jeff Koons. Giuman was quite enthusiastic about the garden and the bees, pointing out to us the various plants that had been specially selected for the site, the 100-year-old pomegranate tree that had been transplanted there, and the bright colors of the bee boxes--also specially selected according to bees' preferences.

But it was almost high noon when we met and the sunlight was harsh, and hardly ideal for taking pictures outside. Besides, when you find yourself in the company of a master glass blower, it's really not gardening that you want to focus on.

There was really so much to see in the various store rooms he led us through that I'd need to return--with a notepad--to catch it all. There were some of the pop-ish glass flowers he'd made for Jeff Koons, and busts of Barack Obama in various sizes, one of Caesar Augustus, one of Maria Callas, and two others of Othello. There was a huge classical temple, at least 8 feet tall, entirely of glass, whose extraordinary total weight I've now forgotten. There were large chandeliers in the classic Murano style and colors you see, for example, in Ca' Rezzonico: such perfect reproductions that I had to ask him if they were 300 years old or recently made.

A very large temple of glass in one of Linea Arianna's many store rooms
We saw a pallet-load of large boxes, labeled for delivery to an upscale department store chain in America.

He showed us the rather claustrophobic room where silica is mixed with all the others ingredients used to make the dry dusty distinctly unprepossessing compound that becomes, in a process as extraordinary as alchemy, beautiful molten glass. He recalled when arsenic was still used as an important ingredient, and how they used to identify it from other similar-looking powered solids by tasting it with a wet fingertip. A little bit doesn't hurt you, he assured us, but if you were to taste it all the time, day after day, poco a poco you'd be in big trouble. (I found myself wondering how many suspicious "natural deaths" must have occurred in the Murano glass community when arsenic was always at hand.) He confirmed what I'd previously heard: that through World War II a certain yellow of Murano glass was created using uranium.

A worker mixes the silica and other raw materials of glass production to be heated later the same day
He showed us that the ancient art of glass making had entered the computer age, and the computer that controlled the furnaces and displayed their temperature.

A computer monitor displays the temperatures of 3 furnaces
I don't know how much of this is the kind of thing one sees or learns on a standard Murano glass works tour, as I've never been on one. Linea Arianna is off the well-beaten tourist paths of Murano, not far from the little-frequented open-air Sacca Serenella stop. (Even closer to the Serenella stop, on the far side of a weedy open lot, is an unassuming little place--looking rather like a neglected public preschool--whose €10 lunch special I'd like to return to and try). It was all new to me, but perhaps not to anyone else who may be reading this.

In any case, after passing through a room of idle furnaces, we ended up in the large cluttered room where Giorgio Giuman's three sons were busy: working swiftly but with complete self-possession and poise, moving wordlessly from one of two blazing furnaces to this or that work-station, coming together briefly to perform some two-person task with a piece of glowing glass, then separating again; communicating only with glances in a perfectly choreographed routine. Busy as bees.

Some of the glass sculptures and a painting in Judi Harvest's show Denatured
A shelf of Honey Vessels at Denatured; on view until October 31, 2013 beside the church of San Stae


  1. Thanks for sharing! I am going to Venice in October and looking forward to visiting Judi's show as well as visiting the wonderful artists on Murano! I know how important it is to support their work!

    1. I'm glad you liked the post, and I hope you'll enjoy DENATURED and your stay in Venice, and maybe find something really great in Murano.

  2. Just imagine working so hard, and with such skill, in the Venetian summer. I'm happy that you were given this special tour, and shared it with us. There is so much history crammed into Murano, and some of it seems to be eroding away.

    1. That's what impressed me, too, Yvonne, the skill and swiftness with which they worked in what most of us would consider rather taxing conditions. I feel awfully tough here--well, when I'm not lamenting the heat--simply because the gym I go to has no air conditioning...

  3. So what a pity not to see it, we meet the two glass artist in venice on thursday 31st october in a bar close to rialto, so next time we will spent one week in venice also to go to the garden of judi harvest and the linea arianna place …… manju & rita from austria

    1. But how nice that you were able to meet the glass artists, manju & rita, even if you didn't get to the garden and furnace this time. It gives you even more to look forward to on your next visit!