Swirls and stripes and spidery filigrees, and Art Deco spirals twining around a globular vase like the rings around a Flash Gordon planet: The Renwick's new show of modern Venetian glass is a tour through tints and tones and shapes -- some classic, some fantastic and some simply playful.
More than 150 pieces of the glassworker's art, all the product of the Venini company and spanning the past 60 years, have been assembled for the exhibition. Transparent, translucent, opaque, some shiny as a drop of oil and others dull as a dry leaf, some in white-and-clear, some in pastels, some in two or more colors that have been welded next to each other, laid over one another or set into one another -- what they have in common is the reminder that to the glassmaker, glass is a fluid medium; what we're accustomed to is the frozen result, which often hides its liquid past.
Some of the pieces on display are massive, thick, looking almost like translucent stone; but the poignant display of a set of seven -- count 'em -- hexagonal drinking glasses is a reminder of the medium's crystalline fragility. Originally, said Chris Addison, who was busy this past week mounting the show, there had been a dozen, but seven is what the Venini factory sent; despite inquiries, the Renwick was unable to learn whether the other five had been spirited away as souvenirs sometime since 1933, when the glasses were made, or had simply been broken.
A footnote: If you recall the James Bond film "Moonraker," and the spectacular fight in a glass shop, you may be interested to know that it was a Venini shop, Addison says, and that the glass pieces smashed were replicas of some of the factory's finest -- doubtless including some of the works in this exhibit.
VENINI GLASS -- At the Renwick Gallery, 17th and Pennsylvania NW, through March 21. Open daily, 10 to 5:30.