Art In America

“Outlaw Glass”

at apexart,
291 Church Street

For a man of culture and taste, choosing a bong can be a tricky task. The range of options can feel limited: water pipes weighted down with tired psychedelia or sterile cylinders emblazoned with bro graphics. The premise of this exhibition of exquisite pipes, bubblers, and bongs is that the liberalization of marijuana laws in some states has led to a kind of renaissance in stoner culture. New (or at least newly emboldened) patrons of the functional glass arts are demanding smoking accoutrements that better reflect their tastes and sensibilities than a frat-house four-footer or some sexless vaporizer that looks like an iPod. Curator David Bienenstock, former head of content at High Times, surveys the diversity of high-end glass pieces emerging from the kilns of leading figures such as Ben Barocas, CapNCrunk, Dwreck, G-Check, Richard Hollingshead II, and Stevie P. The mirrored vitrines at apexart contain a wild menagerie: intricate alien life-forms, cheeky cartoon animals, and simply elegant pipes in warm organic colors.

Still, for all its apparent diversity, the work in “Outlaw Glass” can feel a bit insular, reliant on familiar headshop iconography—aliens, goddesses, wizards. This may reflect that pressures still faced by what Bienenstock calls a “legally grey art form.” His thoughtful essay for the show recalls how glass artists, including the legendary Bob Snodgrass, were swept up in a federal raid in 2003. It’s clear that the full flourishing in glass art that Bienenstock senses on the horizon won’t come to fruition until broader segments of the population can contribute—an impossibility now given a legal system that continues to imprison people, especially people of color, for marijuana crimes. —William S. Smith


Pictured: View of the exhibition “Outlaw Glass,” 2017, at apexart, New York.

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