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A Vanishing Venetian Art Form: Marcantonio Brandolini d’Adda and Murano Glass Fragments by Kirk P-T

by Kirk Patrick Testa | 01 July 2022

Marcantonio Brandolini d'Adda, UNKNOWN N. 67, 2022, Murano glass, detail (Image Courtesy PATERSON ZEVI)

Marcantonio Brandolini d’Adda (b. 1994) is a Venetian born and bred whose art practice tackles the question: How does one present a unique vision whilst keeping alive a centuries-old art form? When he was about five years old in the late 90’s, Marcantonio’s mother established a glass business called LagunaB on the island of Murano. Such an enterprise ushered the family into a history and community of glassmaking that had begun roughly 700 years prior, in 1291, when all glass factories were relocated to the island as a precaution against destructive fires in the city centre. The concentration of craft allowed glassmakers to develop their techniques and to conceal them. Despite his early exposure to the traditions of Murano, Marcantonio was not initially interested in pursuing a career in glassmaking, choosing instead to study marketing in London. Some years after his mother’s death, however, Marcantonio experienced a paradigm shift, and in 2016 he pursued a residency at the Pilchuck School of Glass in Seattle, Washington. Pairing these different educational trajectories granted him the skills to take over LagunaB. Under his leadership and in collaboration with Pilchuk, Marcantonio founded AUTONOMA, an artist exchange program aimed at revitalising the glass community of Murano. With the aid of his gallerist, Courtauld alumna Alma Zevi, Marcantonio has exhibited his own glasswork in Venice, Milan, and New York. More recently, from 07 April until 19 May 2022, his work was presented in London at PATERSON ZEVI, a contemporary art gallery established by Zevi and Olivia Paterson, another Courtauld alumna. This exhibition was not only a first for the artist at the gallery’s Mayfair space, but also his first solo show in London. Friendship was a catalyst for these beginnings. After all, Paterson and Zevi met on their first day at the Courtauld, and now they run a multinational arts agency and consultancy with spaces in London and Venice, while Zevi and Marcantonio have long been friends due to their shared Venetian backgrounds.

Marcantonio Brandolini d'Adda, UNKNOWN N. 65, 2022, Murano glass, detail

(Image Courtesy PATERSON ZEVI)

What sets Marcantonio apart from centuries of tradition is his unique approach of taking fragments of previously-fired glass–cotissi in the Muranese dialect–and fusing them together to create entirely new vessels. He finds these glass fragments in buckets outside the furnaces across the island. By utilising material found by chance, Marcantonio’s practice conveys a wittiness that echoes the ethos of Duchamp, who pushed the limits of art through the use of found objects. In the face of such a conceptual reading of his work, the artist asserts that his work is all about material. Looking at the fluid form of his vessels, it is evident that aside from Marcantonio’s intervention of blowing the initial clear body, the molten glass on the surface is what determines the overall permanent shape of the vessel. Just after the cotissi are melded together, they are placed in the furnace to cool slowly, sometimes over a week, during which gravity takes over and pulls the heavy chunks of glass downward. This waiting proves how time is a crucial ingredient in the making of mesmerising Murano glass, because only through the slow cooling can the proper oxidation processes occur which lends purple glass fragments a mirror finish and red glass chunks their marble-like veining. The vibrant and uneven topography of these vessels convey the appearance of precious stones sliding down a column of glycerin or rock candy left out in the sun for too long. Appearing to be in a perpetual state of melting calls attention to the fact that they are glass, a material that is always in a liminal state of matter: neither liquid, nor solid, but in between.

Marcantonio Brandolini d'Adda, UNKNOWN N. 62, 2022, Murano glass, detail

(Image Courtesy PATERSON ZEVI)

In order to work with glass, especially in the grand scale and mass of Marcantonio’s vessels, one needs gas, and lots of it. Since Europe imports nearly forty percent of its natural gas from Russia, the invasion of Ukraine has severely hiked up fuel prices. With gas bills quadrupling their average monthly cost, Murano’s multi-generational furnaces struggle to remain open, even with government aid. The extensive gas consumption also raises questions about the environment and pollution. However, it is the steady heat that natural gas produces that allows for the creation of the most vivid colored glass. In his small way, by utilising fragments of existing colourful cotissi, Marcantonio is able to use less gas overall while still achieving the vibrant spectrum of colour that characterises Murano glass. Showing Venetian glass in London was a wise move by the gallerists, for it highlighted the connection between their spaces in both cities. More importantly, the exhibition brought attention to the important art of Murano glass. Although glassmaking has endured challenging times, Marcantonio is determined to keep pushing the boundaries of the medium and to attract more artists to working in the remarkable city of Venice.


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