Through a Glass Darkly: Mirrors and Vanity
Friends Artspace: Through a Glass Darkly: Mirrors and Vanity; photo courtesy of Margaret Bakke

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Immersive art experiences that center the viewer, from first person virtual reality works to installation selfie rooms—are extremely hot right now. In Friends Artspace’s inaugural exhibition, Through a Glass Darkly: Mirrors and Vanity, viewers have the opportunity to—quite literally—see themselves reflected in the art. Featuring a range of artists and home goods designers, the show, which focuses on looking glasses, recasts the familiar object that most people use daily as something beautiful, mysterious, and full of possibility.  

Several of the show’s designers draw upon the tradition of Venetian mirrors, and some of the works come from Murano glassworking houses, where techniques for coloring and shaping glass were perfected over centuries. Such mirrors became prized for both the clarity of reflection, as well as the elaborate frames that hid the edges of the glass or armature. The show offers a modern-day approach to these timeworn techniques in a mirror by the Murano-based company Ongaro & Fuga with multilayered florals and tinted glass pieces that are aged with a mercury antiquing method. 

Lucia Massari is another Venetian glass artist whose design riffs on classic ornamentation, though she takes it a step further, playfully applying the colorful glass rosettes and other elements directly onto the glass in the shape of facial features. Several other artists test the limits of functionality with designs that partially obstruct the viewer’s reflection. Léa Mestres masks a pair of mirrors with bulbous, sculptural smiley faces, a reminder (or perhaps a rebuke) to stay positive. Isabel Rower’s mirrors are partially covered in a colored glaze, creating a halo effect around the peephole of reflection that remains visible. The frames are intricately painted porcelain bursting with vibrant flora and fauna. 

Other mirrors are more conducive to checking for lipstick on one’s teeth, but still quite powerful thanks to their lively framing. Adiskidan Ambaye and Springfield-based furniture designer Jomo Tariku collaborated on a mirror encased with wood carved to look like an Afro pick, and large enough to lean up against the wall. Misha Kahn’s colorful puffed-up frames look deceptively like inflatables, but are actually made of resin and tinted with automotive paint. One echoes a historic federalist mirror design, complete with a patriotic eagle perched at the top of the frame. Two floral mirrors by Anna Aagaard Jensen are especially cheeky—one sprouts a pair of promiscuously splayed legs where its stem should be, and both are tinted pink with makeup products—a wink to beauty rituals performed in a mirror. 

In the gallery’s bathroom, there’s no typical medicine cabinet or vanity. Above the sink sits an asymmetrical oval mirror with an amber tint that casts a dreamy hue on its surroundings, a collaboration by designers Sabine Marcelis and Brit van Nerven. Another bathroom design by Lukas Saint-Joigny is more frame than reflector, featuring chunky pink and purple resin surrounding a teeny mirror slightly larger than a compact. Try climbing out of that one, Candyman

A few of the pieces merely hint at reflection rather than serving as true mirrors. Eun-Ha Paek’s series of sculptures depict ceramic figures holding or sitting next to iridescent mirror shapes. They appear slightly bewildered, as though struggling to make out their reflections in the prismatic glaze. A variety of psychedelic mixed-media sculptures and furniture pieces by Laura Soto are covered in glittering blobs that appear to drip and ooze, giving the effect of mirrors that have liquified. One is roughly the size and shape of a wall mirror, but not especially reflective.  

A lot of people are working from home these days, including gallerist Margaret Bakke, who transformed the garage behind her house into an intimate showroom space now known as Friends Artspace. The homey setting works for a show centered around collectible design, or the idea that useful, everyday objects can also be interesting pieces of art. The wide array of mirrors in the exhibit are like something out of an alternate-dimension Bed Bath & Beyond, and walking up a residential driveway only to find a jewel box of a gallery simply heightens the effect of having gone through the looking glass. 

Through a Glass Darkly: Mirrors and Vanity is on view by appointment through Jan. 7, 2022, at Friends Artspace, 2400 N. Edgewood St., Arlington. Free.