The Collection of Robert and Lisa Kessler
By Sara Blumberg
It is with great pleasure that we present the glass collection of Robert and Lisa Kessler of Colorado. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Kesslers turned their attention to the field of Murano glass and proceeded to build a collection filled with rare and unique examples from the 1930s to the 1960s and beyond. As experienced collectors of art and design, they began their adventure in glass by identifying the best dealers and auction houses in the world. The pair understood the importance of following their own aesthetic path while keeping pace with the then emerging Italian glass market.
This spectacular collection covers many decades and highlights include rare examples by Carlo Scarpa, Napoleone Martinuzzi, Paolo Venini, Fulvio Bianconi, Archimede Seguso and Thomas Stearns. One of the great joys of curating this auction has been the chance to handle pieces not seen since their first appearance— whether in early auctions or in small exhibitions and catalogues. From the landmark sales of the early 1990s at Stadion in Milan to the best dealers in Europe and New York, the Kesslers were committed to acquiring the finest and rarest examples possible while adhering to their love of objects rooted firmly in the history of art and design.
The Kesslers were committed to acquiring the finest and rarest examples possible while adhering to their love of objects rooted firmly in the history of art and design.
Robert and Lisa Kessler are true collectors and their interests are as far reaching as they are deep. Well-known as connoisseurs of Southeast Asian bronzes and Chinese paintings and scrolls, perhaps their greatest passion is reserved for contemporary Japanese ceramics. One of the true pleasures of touring the Kessler’s various collections was recognizing their passion for art of all periods and origins expressed in sculptural form. It was therefore fascinating to note that most of their Murano glass pieces were chosen for their shapes and techniques as opposed to the transparency generally associated with glass. It is certainly no coincidence that the collection offers so many examples by Carlo Scarpa, whose love of Asian art and history is well known—this fascination is magnificently represented in his work as both a glass designer and architect. Scarpa’s work for MVM Cappellin and later for Venini perfectly expresses his desire to explore the medium of glass in new and dynamic ways by honoring the connection between surface (techniques often of his own invention) and form.
The Kessler glass collection is unique in many ways. With keen attention to new applications of ancient techniques, the choices made allow one to trace the most forward thinking efforts on the island of Murano during the 20th century.
The Kessler glass collection is unique in many ways. With keen attention to new applications of ancient techniques, the choices made allow one to trace the most forward thinking efforts on the island of Murano during the 20th century. From delicate Fenicio vases to Bollicine and Pulegoso vessels of the 1930s, one recognizes the intention to redefine the medium and move away from the tradition of transparency. The Postwar period brings more invention, this time a reaction to and reflection of world art expressed through the complex use of canes and internal abstract decoration thus reimagining the vessel as a three dimensional canvas. Yoshi Ohira’s inventive works in glass from the 1990s provide the culmination of this sensational collection and reinforce the thread of experimentation connecting all great art and design.
Carlo Scarpa was born in Venice in 1906, and died an accidental death in Japan in 1978. Like many great artists, Scarpa’s work as architect and designer is highly influential and yet remains enigmatic, illusive and hard to categorize. What is obvious in all his work is an underlying transcendental quality, an uncanny ability to create powerful emotional states in all who experience it. It is perhaps this quality that makes him one of the most beloved and revered figures in the history of 20th century Italian art and design.
Scarpa’s various biographers often point to his sensitivity to materials and his ability to evoke the past, but nothing about Scarpa is easy to define. In 1919 he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Venice and graduated in 1926 with the title of Professor of Architecture. He did not, however, sit the pro forma exam required by the Italian government, and hence was never fully licensed as an architect.
A master of blending ancient and modern materials, forms and sensibilities, Scarpa completed over sixty architectural projects for museums in his lifetime. His agile use of precious, humble and industrial materials in order to elegantly frame historical fragments and artifacts is perhaps his greatest architectural achievement. His devotion to restoration and preservation also seem to suggest a belief that the true vocation of any architect is to quietly re-frame history, to convey a sense of both past and present, uniting them in full knowledge that the future is unwritten.
Scarpa’s work as a glass designer is equally poetic and ambitious. Working for both MVM Cappellin and Venini he produced hundreds of models, all of which are now considered masterworks. Drawing inspiration from ancient Chinese and Japanese vessels, Scarpa was able to express the best aspects of Murano glass craftsmanship in reduced modernist forms. Even the titles of his series hint at the elemental power of his work: Bollicine, Transparente, Granulare, Iridato, Inciso, Batutto, Vellato, Fasce, Pennellate (Bubbly, Transparent, Grainy, Iridized, Incised, Beaten, Veiled, Banded, Brushstrokes).
Carlo Scarpa’s death itself was poetic. He died from injuries after falling down a flight of concrete steps that he himself had designed in Sendai, Japan. However his death was not immediate—he lived for ten days. While unable to speak, it is said that he could write, but only backwards, and that he spent his last days creating tiny illustrated books for his friends. In the end he was buried in the standing position, wrapped in white muslin, in a quiet corner of the Brion-Vega Cemetery in San Vito d’Altivole, widely considered to be his ultimate architectural masterpiece.
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