A Great Wish

A Great Wish,1998
Loretta Yang, Liu Li Gong Fang (USA), Inc.
Pate de verre and glass; 11 1/2 x 12 x 25 in
Gift of Liu Li Gong Fang (USA), Inc.
Loretta Hui-Shan Yang’s A Great Wish rests luminously in the Bowers Museum’s Thompson Foyer, a larger-than-life-size glass sculpture of an infant nestled safely in the palm of a hand. Located in the bridge between the museum’s North and South Wings, this great glass child is seen by almost every visitor to the museum, but to the average museum-goer the object remains something of a mystery. One would have had to attend the Bowers’ 2001 exhibition, Trilogy of Glassworks: Ancient Rome—Chihuly—Yang to know that A Great Wish was exhibited alongside works from the most famous glass artist to date of the 21st Century, Dale Chihuly, and craftsmen from almost 2000 years ago. What is more, that Loretta Hui-Shan Yang’s method of glass firing is refined version of a Chinese process every bit as old as Roman glass.
Roman cast-glass plate from the 3rd century, found in Cyprus.
Photographed by Luis García
It was thought for a long time that all glass in China was imported up until the early years of the Qing Dynasty when a Jesuit missionary from Germany chanced into establishing the Peking Imperial Palace Glassworks. Even then it was only an expansion of baroque European glassmaking methodologies to the East. This mindset has meant that scholarship on the subject it limited, and the study of Chinese glass has mostly been approached through a scientific lens. Recent archeology has now proven though that despite a lapse of glass making during the Sung and Ming Dynasties (960-1644) as early as the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) glass beads containing boron, not used anywhere else at that time, were buried alongside Emperors.
The specific technique used by Loretta Hui-Shan Yang also appears to have an ancient history in China. Known as pâte-de-verre, which literally translates to glass paste, Chinese examples dating back to the 1stCentury BC have been discovered in the Tomb of the Han Emperor Liu Sheng. The modern process is slightly different than the ancient one, involving grinding glass into a powder, mixing it with bonding, fluxing, and coloring agents, inserting it into a negative plastic mold made using a wax figure, and finally firing it in a kiln for several days. Depending on the additives used, an incredible array of colors and opacities can be attained, the incredible results of which are clearly visible in the ever-growing body of Yang’s work. Returning to the clouded glass of A Great Wish, its opacity may seem odd compared against the bulk of crystal clear glass being produced today, but its has historically been the norm.
After I had gazed quietly,
All waves in my mind calmed down.
I meditate and let go
Of all my struggles. 
–Loretta Hui-Shan Yang's Label Text for A Great Wish
Photograph of Loretta Yang
© 1987-2010 LLGF Corporation
For Loretta Hui-Shan Yang, the key aspect of glass creation has not necessarily been the revitalization of a practically dead Chinese craft or pushing the boundaries of Chinese glassmaking into art, it is instead a spiritual awakening. Known throughout Asia in the late 1980’s for as one of the region’s most prolific actresses, at the height of her fame she retreated into relative obscurity to study and founded a glass working studio in Taiwan called NEWWORKSHOP. Mortgaging her entire livelihood and investing almost $4 million to rediscover lost Chinese wax casting, what she did eventually find was a medium which could properly depict the tenants of Buddhism. Transparency and translucency, opaque figures floating in clear glass, and even the peacefully resting child of A Great Wish are all markers of the transitory philosophy of Buddhism. Raised as a Catholic, and now wholly motivated by Buddhism, she finds that even the simplest reproductions of Buddha require a study of wisdom and patience. The process she uses of firing glass can very easily cause works to crack while being fired in the kiln setting a project back months. When met with frustration Yang paraphrases the Bhaisajyaguru, “may the moment come when I attain enlightenment that my body, my soul, my spirit become like crystal. Pure. Transparent. Flawless.”
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.
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Wednesday, 23 September 2020

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