Silvia Levenson brings the black humor of the survivor into the domestic arena with a wit that tempers what might at first glance be shrugged off as simple, more caustic feminism. Hers is a tango danced by twin outsiders of the Venetian glass community: female artist/ kilcast glass. And to further insult the traditionalists, she concocts her iconoclastic cakes with American glass. – Lani McGregor, director, The Bullseye Connection.
Razor blades embedded in wedding cakes. Knives hanging precariously above recliners. Shoes pierced with nails. Empty chairs. Silvia Levenson does not claim her work is universal, but rather an intimate reflection of her own feelings about childhood, domesticity, travel and exile. Though she lives and works in Italy, her work cannot be defined by the usual Italian glass parameters. There’s nothing shiny or exclusively beautiful about her cast glass; rather, it is raw, emotional and unforgettable.
Levenson is a survivor, a descendant of Russian Jewish fugitives from the 1904 Revolution, herself an exile from Argentine repression. From 1976 to 1984, during the dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, 30,000 people known as “desaparecidos” disappeared in Argentina, including members of Levenson’s own family. People who were identified as terrorists were abducted or murdered outright in their homes or safe houses, at their jobs or high schools. When one of Levenson’s cousins and her aunt were killed, she emigrated to Italy with her husband and two children, Natalia and Emilano. She was only 23 years old at the time.
Coming to art as a painter and graphic artist, in 1987 Levenson read Glass Fusing I and discovered that artists were able to work in glass independently. At this time, she also attended Bertil Vallien’s exhibition of stunning new work in cast glass and was again surprised by the potential of the medium. This attraction and excitement led to her early glass studies at Creative Glass, Switzerland, and Sars Poteries, France. She says: “I was fascinated, not only with the beauty of glass but with the fact that glass is a material used in our daily lives. I do not believe the more complex the material, the better the result. I think that a good piece begins with a good idea. I don’t like virtuosity in art. I love feelings, pathos, intuitions. Being a slave to technique is boring.”
In 1995, Levenson served an artist residency at Bullseye Glass Co., where she created work for her first U.S. exhibition Il Viaggio: Selected Works, held at Bullseye Gallery. In 2004, when she was awarded the Rakow Commission from the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) for her work It’s Raining Knives, the first congratulatory e-mail was from McGregor. Her relationship with the company, which is both personal and professional, continues today.
Through iconic objects such as tea pots and wedding cakes, pink hand grenades and empty chairs, Levenson’s work reflects the fragility and vulnerability of humankind. The sculptures symbolize myriad painful truths including the inability of parents to protect children and the repetition of parents’ mistakes by their offspring. One might believe collectors would shy away from such intense or painful content to focus on the decorative quality of glass, on its beauty. But, when Levenson created her Little Bad Girl dresses made in glass and barbed wire, she sold them all. Levenson explains: “If you look at what is happening in a contemporary art context, my work doesn’t look so aggressive.”
Though the Covid 19 pandemic altered Levenson’s teaching and exhibition schedule, the artist currently offers online workshops, including a sold-out class for Warm Glass UK, and future class for Bullseye in August 2020. She is scheduled to teach August 3 – 8, 2020 at CMOG, https://www.cmog.org/class/shifting-boundaries. Check the websites for updates. The artist is also providing one-on-one online tutoring. Find out more at www.silvialevenson.com.
Fall 2020 exhibitions include Punto sull’arte Gallery, Varese, Italy, September 29 and Argentinean Embassy, Rome, October 29, with Levenson’s daughter, Natalia Saurin. Post pandemic, Levenson will install new work at the Art Applied Museum at Sforzesco Castle, Milan. A travelling exhibition, Missing Identity, addresses her experiences as a survivor of Argentina’s Dirty War. The show has been exhibited at the American University Museum in Washington DC, the Argentine Consulate in Barcelona, the Galerie Argentine in Paris, the Murano Glass Museum in Italy and Bullseye Projects, Portland, Oregon. Recovered Identity, Levenson’s 130-piece collection of glass baby clothes, was acquired in 2018 by the Alexander Tutsek Fondation in Germany. The work will be exhibited some time in 2021.