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A State of Matter: Modern and Contemporary Glass Sculpture

18 February – 5 June 2022

Release date: Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Kara Chatten

  • By Kara Chatten
  • Henry Moore Institute
  • Marketing & Communications Manager (Leeds)
  • To mark the United Nations International Year of Glass 2022, the Henry Moore Institute is delighted to present a major exhibition exploring glass as a material for sculpture.
  • Glass sculpture will be on display from 1965 to the present day, by 16 artists including Claire Falkenstein, Mona Hatoum, Luke Jerram, Joseph Kosuth and Hew Locke.
  • The exhibition explores glass through its three different states of matter: solid, liquid and gas.

A State of Matter: Modern and Contemporary Glass Sculpture will showcase the material properties of glass as a medium, and the ways in which artists have worked with or against these properties. 

The exhibition is curated by the Henry Moore Institute’s Research Curator Dr Clare O’Dowd who says

“Glass is a mysterious and wonderful thing. Alongside its aesthetic qualities, the alchemical and secretive production processes involved in working with glass have rendered it an especially troublesome proposition for sculptors. The sculpture on display in this exhibition shows the breadth of ways sculptors have got to grips with the material.  Interest in glass as a material for sculpture has never been greater. From the success of Netflix’s Blown Away series, to the UN’s support for the International Year of Glass and the development of this major exhibition, glass is truly having its moment in the spotlight.”

Dr Clare O'Dowd

Glass is both a material and a state of matter. The heat of the furnace transforms grains of silica into molten lava, which can be stretched, flattened, moulded, blown or cast. When cooled from its molten state, glass takes on the qualities most readily associated with it, becoming transparent, reflective, fragile and ephemeral. As a material glass can be both entirely utilitarian, creating window panes, vessels and lenses, and richly expressive, becoming a vehicle for the most visionary experimentation and technical sophistication.

The capacity of glass to take on different surface textures, different colours and to change its shape and physical state with such abandon means that it is exceptionally difficult to categorise. Unlike stone or wood, there is no essential ‘truth’ to glass as a material. Even things we think we know about glass can turn out to be deceptions: it isn’t always transparent; it isn’t always fragile; it doesn’t always reflect light. Thus, when sculptors turn to glass, they are able to make it perform the most extraordinary feats.

This exhibition will highlight some of the ways artists have worked with glass, sometimes using its common properties, sometimes challenging them, and often whilst making profound underlying comments on issues of identity or human frailty. The exhibition explores glass through its three different states of matter: solid, liquid and gas, which roughly correspond to specific techniques such as cast glass, poured molten glass, and blown glass.

The expectations of material and subject are cleverly subverted in many of the sculptures, such as Alena Matějka’s weighty Magic Carpets 2004, or Elliot Walker’s highly illusionistic oranges. Other sculptures use the fragility of glass in a metaphoric sense to suggest the vulnerability of the human condition, ideas that are particularly prominent in Luke Jerram’s beautiful but dangerous glass microbes.

Glass has the capacity to render potentially ugly subjects as aesthetically beautiful objects: Mona Hatoum’s work in glass involves motifs of abjection or destruction that become deeply aesthetically pleasing when produced in glass. Subverting the decorative properties of glass – the ‘kitsch’ of traditional Murano decorative finishes, for example – can also be seen in recent work by Hew Locke and the De La Torre Brothers, which reflect upon issues of race and identity while rendering the decorative as grotesque. A disruptive approach to the everyday uses of glass, such as bottles and windows, can be seen in work by Claire Falkenstein and Joseph Kosuth in the exhibition. 

The exhibition will also explore some of the collaborations between artists and master glassmakers that are key to many examples of glass sculpture, collaborations which are encapsulated in many of the works generously loaned by the National Glass Centre in Sunderland. Although a number of sculptors specialise in working with glass, more frequently artists turn to the skills and expertise of professionals in order to realise sculpture in glass. The exhibition will celebrate the input of skilled fabricators as well as the creativity of artists, and will demonstrate that glass is an infinitely variable material, used in imaginative and subversive ways by a diverse range of artists. 

A State of Matter: Modern and Contemporary Glass Sculpture is part of the Henry Moore Institute’s ongoing programme of research into sculpture and its histories. A series of research events and activities accompanies the exhibition. Full details to be announced.


Full list of exhibiting artists in A State of Matter: Modern and Contemporary Glass Sculpture

Solid (cast, moulded, lamp-worked and rolled glass)
Featured artists working with solid glass include:
Erwin Eisch
Luke Jerram
Joseph Kosuth
Silvia Levenson
Bruce McLean
Alena Matějka
Elliot Walker (winner of Season 2 of Netflix’s Blown Away)

Liquid (melted, poured, dripped or stretched glass)
Featured artists working with liquid glass include:
Alexandra Engelfriet
Claire Falkenstein
Petr Stanicky

Gas (blown glass)
Featured artists working with blown glass include:
The De La Torre Brothers
Maria Bang Espersen
Mona Hatoum
Hew Locke
Nicholas Pope
Emma Woffenden

For further information, images or to arrange a visit please contact

Kara Chatten, Marketing and Communications Manager
Henry Moore Institute 

Emily Dodgson, Head of Marketing and Communications
Henry Moore Foundation

Fiona Russell, Senior Account Director

Notes to Editors

The Henry Moore Institute is situated on The Headrow, next to Leeds Art Gallery, in Leeds city centre's cultural hub, just a five-minute walk from Leeds Station.

Henry Moore Institute welcomes everyone to visit their Galleries, Research Library and Archive of Sculptors’ Papers to experience, study and enjoy sculpture from around the world. The Institute can be found in the centre of Leeds, the city where Henry Moore (1898-1986) began his training as a sculptor. Their changing programme of historical, modern and contemporary exhibitions and events encourage thinking about what sculpture is, how it is made and the artists who make it.

As part of the Henry Moore Foundation, they are a hub for sculpture, connecting a global network of artists and scholars, continuing research into the art form and ensuring that sculpture is accessible and celebrated by a wide audience.

Free entry
Open Tuesday - Sunday, 10am–5pm

Henry Moore Institute, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 3AH

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The Henry Moore Foundation was founded by the artist and his family in 1977 to encourage public appreciation of the visual arts. Today it supports innovative sculpture projects, devises an imaginative programme of exhibitions and research worldwide, and preserves the legacy of Moore himself: one of the great sculptors of the 20th century, who did so much to bring the art form to a wider audience

Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Saturday, 10am - 5pm; Sunday, 1 - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment

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