On the second floor of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts one encounters a dramatic, almost theatrical, installation set in a dimly lit room. The work, by glass artist Lindsay O’Leary, consists of five clusters of mirrored glass objects displayed on an ultramarine blue carpet that has been cut into a wave-like shape. The wave continues, in crisp-edged blue paint, around the installation’s periphery, on three walls of the room.
My first response to Efflorescence: The Sea After Time was to think of the New York artist Josiah McElheny, who creates complex, mirrored blown-glass shapes that are often displayed on mirrored surfaces; the multifaceted arrangements are perplexing, as it is almost impossible to tell where one surface ends and another begins.
With McElheny’s well-known work in mind, O’Leary’s exhibition might have been destined to fall short. But after spending more time with Efflorescence, I began to appreciate its merits.
O’Leary, originally from Lorain, Ohio, studied geographic information systems and violin performance at Denison University. Before attending graduate school, however, she took classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and discovered a love of glass. In 2002, she moved here after learning of the Pittsburgh Glass Center, among the nation’s leading public-access glass studios.
Her five sculptures on display at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts are comprised of orb-like blown-glass objects that burst outward from a central core, much like very complex molecular models, or flora. The largest individual orb is approximately a foot-and-a-half in diameter and the smallest is about 4 inches in diameter. The largest of the five sculptures consists of what appears to be more than 100 orbs. Although most are mirrored, a few of the glass objects are whitish and have a scumbled surface. Black tulle is used to fill the negative spaces between the globes, and to help camouflage the center of the sculptures, where the orbs are attached.
What makes this exhibition particularly compelling is the images reflected in the mirrored surfaces. They are a vital aspect of the artwork, as important as the objects themselves. One of the sculptures is placed directly against the painted wall, and the ultramarine color is reflected too: The orbs seem to be disappearing into the wall.
Startlingly, also reflected in the orbs are viewers of the artwork themselves. Hundreds of tiny reflections of myself, and other viewers, stared back at us. The sweeping expanse of blue paint on the wall behind us in the reflections made it appear as though we were trapped in the installation. Thanks to those blue wave shapes, and the way the sculptures vaguely suggest aquatic plants, Efflorescence is reminiscent of an underwater environment; the viewer might feel slightly panicked, or relaxed, depending on her own response to being underwater. The same holds true for the hundreds of reflections staring back, making the viewer an integral aspect of the work, and presenting an opportunity to examine something much more complex than a glass installation: their relationship to themselves and, ultimately, to the art as well.
Efflorescence: The Sea After Time continues through Aug. 19. Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside. 412-361-0873 or www.pittsburgharts.org