Beth Lipman at Claire Oliver

Beth Lipman at Claire Oliver

Few artists today make the sort of content-rich sculptural statements with glass that Beth Lipman does. Her signature work involves tables piled high with goblets, serving ware, oversized, ornamental vases, snuffed “candles,” and half-eaten “food” – some pieces broken, others overturned, all mouth-blown by the artist and usually transparent. For the viewer, it’s as if she’s happened upon the aftermath of a raucous feast in a Victorian mansion, where the party clearly got out of hand.

“Precarious Possessions,” which opened last week at Claire Oliver gallery in New York and runs through March 9, is Lipman’s latest solo show. Three elaborate works comprise the exhibition: Pitcher with Vines, Flotsam and Jetsam, and Sideboard with Blue China. We asked Lipman to tell us about her intentions for this latest work.

The excesses of the Victorian era serve as your inspiration. Why that period in particular? Does it parallel contemporary life in some important way?

First, yes, the Victorian era was excessive in some ways. But it’s all relative. I can’t say that any other period in history was not excessive. There are a lot of reasons why that period in particular is so compelling to me. The Victorians’ rituals surrounding mourning and mortality and their faith in objects are two of the most provocative aspects of the period. 

It’s been said that your work is, in part, motivated by the human "inability to see our own indulgence." We are awash in things, but we don't necessarily know that. Do you have a conviction about how people should relate to the things in their lives?

The process of creating and the end results are ways for me to explore my relationship with objects. I have no specific convictions about how we should relate to the things with which we surround ourselves. Each object has its own history; it can’t be divorced from its past or its creation. I find myself constantly searching for clues about individuals or societies in objects. They represent us.

One conclusion I draw from the elegant heaps of broken glass in your sculpture is that possession is often futile. It may not satisfy us – or even be possible. Is that how you see it?

Yes and no. I do believe the acquisition and possession of objects is gratifying in the moment and over a long period of time. When an object is sentimental, it can trigger feelings of desire, as well as loss, and so on, every time one engages.  That being said, possessing objects can never stave off death – making possession ultimately futile. Many things surrounding us will be here long after we’re gone.

Tell us a bit about your process. Do you plan each sculpture in advance, or does it evolve as you work?

I have a general idea in the beginning, and it evolves during the process.