Glass flowers nestled inside hunks of glass finely shaven down with diamonds. A mesmerizing orb that appears to be floating, but is in fact just a two-dimensional acrylic painting on canvas.
At the entrance to "Fooling the Eye: Optics of Vasarely and Kuhn," visitors will notice an array of small glass orbs and paperweights that look like they have actual flowers inside. But it's all an optical illusion, an imaginary world embedded in glass created by artist Paul J. Stankard.
"[Stankard] is really known for hidden details, so if you look at the roots of some of the pieces, they have hidden figures and then the mirror helps reflect the bottom of them so that you see the faces and things like that," said Cafesjian Art Trust Museum Executive Director Andy Schlauch.
Inside the gallery, there are more than 40 works by two artists who are known for creating optical illusions in their art. Glass artist Jon Kuhn's laborious glass sculptures, many of which take several years to complete, often have geometrical designs embedded in them and reflect slices of rainbow-tinted light onto the floor and the walls, and are influenced by Eastern philosophies. Hungarian-born artist Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) is known as the grandfather of Op Art — the 1960s movement where artists used geometric shapes and perspectives to create eye-bending visual effects.
The majority of the work in this show comes from the Cafesjian Art Trust Museum's collection, which houses more than 3,000 works of primarily glass art.
"Kuhn reveals things in his work, and Vasarely plays with your depth perception," Schlauch said. "I thought it would be fun for people to learn about how artists figure out how the brain works before psychologists even did in the 1960s, which led to the Op Art Movement, but artists have been doing it since the Renaissance."
A visual connection
Often, the two artists play off each other, even though they weren't necessarily in each other's lives, though this is the second time that Kuhn and Vasarely have been in an exhibition together. The first time was at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City, Mich., that also happened to be Kuhn's first museum show.
In Kuhn's rainbow-hued "Joseph Ribbon," 2019-2022, he shapes glass into a twisting line, creating various deep angles, then affixes it atop a silver stand that one can spin (but only in specific ways, lest the glass get scratched). Kuhn's sculpture feels like a physical manifestation of Vasarely's optical illusionary paintings "Gestalt MC," 1980, a checkered seemingly three-dimensional cube, and "Kezdi (Start)," 1990, a similar cube but with lines of color.
Kuhn, who speaks with a slight Southern accent and is based in North Carolina, got into glassmaking accidentally. He was originally a potter, then a furniture designer. He was working on a master's degree in furniture design and the department head was a glass blower, and he got curious about glass. After the first semester, he realized he was spending more time in the glass studios than the woodshop and switched to glass. At the time, he felt it better fit his personality.
"I am philosophical, but woodworkers seemed more philosophical than glass blowers," Kuhn said last week at the museum. "Glass blowers are more mercurial."
Kuhn's three-part series, "Untitled," 2012, "Blue Line," 2012, and "Grand Disruption," 2013-2015, a series of framed glass works, some of which look like sound waves made of tiny diamonds, was inspired by his divorce. He has since remarried.
"It was all chaotic in the middle, then going in opposite directions," Kuhn said, pointing to the triptych of framed artworks. "And then this one went in opposite directions but toward the end, there's order."
Despite being a glass artist, Kuhn is still interested in philosophy.
"I started with Zen Buddhism and moved to Confucianism and I Ching, and I've meditated for most of my life, and now I do a lot of breathing meditation," he said. "I don't follow any particular teacher or guru or anything. After a while, you realize that it's all in the breath."
'Fooling the Eye: Optics of Vasarely and Kuhn'
|Where: Cafesjian Art Trust Museum, 4600 Churchill St., Shoreview
When: Ends May 4.
Info: cafesjianarttrust.org or 612-359-8991.
Hours: The museum is open for tours only at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Make a reservation via cafesjianarttrust.org or 612-359-8991.