Yoichi Ohira, the Japanese-born glass vessel designer, has worked in Venice for over 30 years. He retired about a year ago. I read his book in 2003, just months after its publication, and so I’ve been following this man for some time. In those days he was receiving attention for the surfaces of his vessels. Ohira was an experimenter–he could make glass look like wood or clay or water. More recently, he’s been designing some groundbreaking forms. You’ve never seen anything like these.
His works sell very well, and Barry Friedman Gallery works furiously to get the word out on him (they’ve published videos and his book, and they’ve gotten his work into the Met museum) but Ohira is still known only among collectors of glass art. I believe that to break out like Dante Marioni, Lino Tagliapietra, and Dale Chihuly, out of the glass art niche and into the broader art world, he has to produce something more remarkable than individual vessels. He needs to create something worth talking about, worth responding to in newspapers, or at least in Huffington Post. He needs to develop installations (sets of 8 or more vessels).
At this crossroads, Ohira would benefit from no longer selling individual works, but instead, producing sets of multiple vessels. This move would exclude some reluctant buyers and it would narrow the distribution of his work, but it would also make his work more salient and notable in any given estate (i.e., people coming in contact with an installation of his work would really have to take note of Yoichi Ohira, whereas people coming in contact with a single vessel of his might pass it over as another anonymous piece of glass art). He’d place installations in hotels and botanical gardens, which would more than compensate for the narrowed distribution.
An artist working with blown glass needs little time to actually turn out the pieces (perhaps 90 minutes of hotworking for the vessel pictured above). Yoichi Ohira is a designer, not a craftsman. He has a team of three exceptionally talented Venetian craftsmen who blow and coldwork the pieces he designs (and such is not uncommon among glass artists). If he recruited another coldworker to join the team, the five of them could conceivably churn out 500 vessels a year (that’s if the team built 12 vessels per week, and took 10 weeks off per year). Time is not a constraint, and the cost of materials is surely surmountable. Making large installations is definitely feasible for his talented team. Truly, the greatest challenge may be the sheer weight of an installation of his vessels.
Ohira is not the only glass artist who would benefit from a move to producing installations exclusively. Tobias Mohl, whose vessels appeal to the viewer in a manner similar to that of Ohira’s vessels, has already taken this step towards producing installations. Tom Patti has also made the jump. I would love to see what Ohira could put together if he shifted his focus to constructing installations.