November 18, 1999
Gene Koss artwork is unusual, not only because of its size (large), its weight (eight tons) or even its subject (farm machinery), but also it's medium-glass. On Jan. 11, 1999, this Newcomb art professors innovative use of glass earned him the New Orleans Museum of Arts Delgado Society's annual award honoring a prominent local artist.
"The goal of the Delgado Society award is to bring local recognition to nationally recognized artists," says Sharon Litwin, a member of the society and assistant director of development at the museum. "The society feels very strongly that New Orleans and the state of Louisiana have artists of national and international caliber, but they are not recognized at home," says Litwin. "Locally, we tend to overlook them."
Koss' work, however, is not easily overlooked. Hay Loader, for example, is a play of light, glass, neon and steel that sweeps in a graceful 12-foot arc above Commerce Street in the Arts District. Another piece resides as the wheel-shaped reception desk at the Contemporary Arts Center.
"With glass, a lot of the work is teamwork," says Koss, "and I have been lucky to have worked with the same project coordinators for the last 20 years. They help to keep the projects on center. The focus of 15 of those years has been a series of pieces evoking Midwestern farm life."
Koss and his team, Chris Greve, a mechanical engineer, and Scott Sergo, a glassmaker and installer, have developed the techniques to transform Koss' memories of the mechanized Wisconsin farm of his youth into foundry-based glass sculpture. Koss has exhibited his work in national shows, including the Rogers Gallery in New York and a retrospective of his work in Philadelphia last November.
He teaches across the country during the summer and makes frequent trips to Italy and Japan, where glass sculpture is particularly popular, he says. In explaining his-and his students-attraction to working with glass, Koss notes the dichotomy it represents. "Glass as a medium carries with it connotations of fineness and fragility, but glass as cast sculpture exhibits power and requires strength."
"I thought of glass as fragile, but I wanted to be able to lean on it, sit on it. I wanted to sculpt glass like stone. Glass sculpture emerged as an art form in the early 1960s," says Koss, who began the glass movement in New Orleans when he joined Tulane in 1977 to run a program with only eight students.
Now, Koss heads the Pace-Willson glass program located in the renovated glass studios in the Woldenberg Art Center at Newcomb College. The program currently has 60 undergraduates and two graduate students. "A serious operation like this doesn't develop overnight," Koss says. "The program is important, not just the facility, even a state-of-the art facility. The students have to feel good in the space."
In addition to teaching, Koss is in the early stages of designing an ambitious new piece. With this piece, Koss says, "I want to push the barriers in ideas about metal and glass even further. I want to take a giant step."
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