Monday, February 25, 2008

Visiting Habatat Gallery in Tyson’s Corner

Janus Walentynowicz, "Waiter Heads 1," glass/mixed media

By Katherine Sable

I was curious to see what types of galleries are located outside of the District, crossing into the state of Virginia. I found Habatat Gallery via an online search, and I didn’t know what to expect. As I walked up to the façade of Habatat Gallery, on the ground floor of a tall office building located amidst many other development projects in Tyson’s corner, I was a little excited to find a quiet, professional entrance, which was surprisingly similar to many of the strong, intimidating galleries in Chelsea. There were no 50% off signs, absolutely no buy-one-get-one-free bulletins, only tasteful signage with the name of the gallery and hours located on fingerprint-less glass doors. Upon entering, I heard classical music drifting quietly in the background and found some to-die-for lighting. The front desk was larger than you would find in a typical Chelsea gallery, and very welcoming and approachable. I came specifically to review a photography show, but I was tempted past the photographs on aluminum and into the other spaces with remarkable sculptural items twinkling on display.

It’s evident that Habatat Gallery has worked to perfect its display of sculpture. Within the lofty space, with high dark ceilings and darkly stained industrial floors, it felt like a gallery while at the same time a little like home. It was warm, inviting, friendly, and this made me want to venture further into the space. They have a small variety of ways to display their sculpture pieces- rather than using the typical white pedestals, Habatat has installed a focal point of fabulously designed dark wood cabinetry with various cubicles, each equipped with its own lighting. The wall of individual sculpture pieces was not overwhelming, and the lighting enabled each piece to stand out in its own right.

As great as the space was, there were of course also a handful of art pieces that interested me. Working with glass as a fine art medium has had a recent revitalization, and Habatat Gallery has a secondary market for glass sculpture. Emily Brock’s cast flame-worked glass vignettes of "His Office" and "Her Office" caught my attention. Although Brock’s use of pink either irritated or excited me (I can’t decide), she still creates particular little worlds, a little stereotypical, that drew me in, if only by their size and detail. Nevertheless, Brock seems to push the potential glass provides for her. Within the pieces I saw, she incorporates painting, fusing, cutting, blowing, engraving, grinding, sawing, and polishing to create all the little shapes located within her miniatures. Little books and pieces of colored stationary are only a few of the small details in the office settings that make walking up to these sculptures worthwhile. The content (or maybe simply subject matter) is topical and the pieces really only stand as descriptions or scenes; I hoped for more. But that may be ok for Emily Brock, as she clearly loves the use of glass to create these delicate, safe little worlds. For me, I can’t stop imagining myself, or maybe something bigger and stronger- like a bull, running through and breaking this delicate silence, a thought that is definitely fallout of the artist’s choice of medium.

A very different sculptor who also uses glass as a fine art medium, Janus Walentynowicz, displayed peculiar wall-hung pieces titled "Waiter Heads." The heads were significantly different than every other piece of art presented in Habatat Gallery. They were not clean and shiny; they did not meld with or “match” the décor in this modern architecture. They stood out. Walentynowicz denies the qualities of glass (shiny, smooth, seductive) which the rest of the glass artists here utilized and preferred. His pieces were raw: cracked and pitted, full of flaws, semi-opaque. These “waiter heads” interested me the most. Firstly, after viewing all of the other glass art in the gallery, I started to pinpoint more particularly what the glass was making me think about- finding fragility, weakness and transparency being of utmost importance to me. I think that’s the reason I couldn’t stop imagining running into Brock’s little worlds and wrecking them. Walentynowicz's pieces have such physical presence; you cannot deny looking into the works rather than simply admiring the glossy surface. This is key! This quality rendered the faces painted below the glass evocative. The surface of the painted face and the surface of the glass drowning the faces became one and at the same time were fighting with each other. I began to wonder about the identity of these waiters, and in doing so, I was forced to look through, intensely, the surface of the semi-opaque glass and into the actual depths of these pieces. What a success; I kept jumping back and forth, in and out, and the properties of the glass are essential to that dynamic.

Habatat Gallery will celebrate its first year anniversary with drinks, food, and dancing on Thursday, March 27th from 8pm to 12 am. I say check them out, Tyson’s Corner isn’t that far away.

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