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Insights: Indulgences

Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

"If you had my money," said a wealthy friend of mine, "what would you collect?" He expected to hear wine or Ferraris, both of which he knows I covet. My answer surprised him. "I'd collect Lino Tagliapietra," I replied.

Unless you're a devotee of Venetian glass, you may not recognize the name. It's worth knowing, though, because Lino Tagliapietra is the art-glass genius of our time. To buy Tagliapietra's best works today is like living in seventeenth-century Holland and having access to just-created Rembrandts.

This is not just one man's enthusiasm. Accolades for Tagliapietra's works are so abundant, and effusive, that you wonder why he's not a household name. Museum shelves are filling up with colorful, fantastically shaped Tagliapietra sculptures. International awards and special showings clog his calendar.

"He's simply the greatest living glassblower," says Howard J. Lockwood, the publisher of the quarterly newsletter "Vetri: Italian Glass News," which is devoted to late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italian glass.

"Fifty years from today his work will be well- known," adds Lockwood. "That's something you can't say with any assurance about almost any other well-known names in the field. He's already in most major museums."

Proof that Taglipietra's creations are in a league by themselves comes from the prices they command at auction. Although many glass artists ask for -- and sometimes get -- inflated gallery prices, their < auction action is limp. Prices drop precipitously from the gallery "gotcha!" Not Tagliapietra's work. When his pieces reach the auction floor, they usually fetch the high end of the estimate. Considering that Tagliapietra's best work dates only from the mid-1990s and he's still adding to his oeuvre, that's saying something.

So what's Lino Tagliapietra got that sets him apart? "He's taken the whole tradition of Venetian glassblowing to new heights," says William Traver of the William Traver Gallery in Seattle, one of his earliest American supporters.

Susanne K. Frantz, the former curator of twentieth-century glass at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, asserts that Tagliapietra's work is "the most sensational blown glass made since the 1950s."

What Tagliapietra has is unrivaled technical mastery allied to inspired design. Yet unlike, say, Picasso, his design talent flowered surprisingly late. "When he was a factory worker, he did other people's designs," explains Traver.

This anomaly is explained by the demanding technical requirements of Venetian glassblowing. Now 67, Tagliapietra (the name, ironically, means stonecutter in Italian) started his apprenticeship at age 11 in Venice's legendary glass workshops on the island of Murano. A decade later, he achieved the rank of maestro, or master. That's when you stop being a journeyman and become an artisan in your own right.


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