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All content by Kyle E. Mitchell, who is not your lawyer.

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December 5, 2019

Rakow 2019score one, illegal art people

The Corning Museum of Glass is the United States’ premier museum dedicated to glass, glass blowing, glass working, glass art. Each year, the museum’s Rakow Commission pays an artist $25,000 for a new piece for their collection. For 2019, the museum commissioned David Colton, who draws inspiration from graffiti and … marijuana pipe making. He delivered a graffito-inspired piece hiding a usable pot pipe that became the first “functional glass” piece—working drug paraphernalia made of glass—in a museum collection. When I first saw it on video, my jaw went slack.

Watch the video.

White guy hip-hop. The Grateful Dead. Journeyman travel. Phish. 9/11. The Internet. Far East knock-offs. Homeland Security. Federalism. Market competition. Even a proud dad.

If you’d asked me about Dave when Dave was becoming Dave who gets a Rakow Commission, I’d’ve looked down, cast aside, dismissed. Hip-Hop didn’t really make it to my tiny Texas hometown, even with TV, until I’d made it out. Pot’s a goofy drug. I tried it in college and wasn’t impressed. The Grateful Dead is a secret code you can learn to decipher stickers on used cars. Bad renditions of Simpsons characters in glass, with bowls glommed on, sold exclusively in glass cabinets in head shops, can make a buck and nothing more.

In short, I’d’ve been the kind of fogy that kept Dave Colton’s nascent jazz—another art form burbled out of the margins of my native land—under the great collective thumb. And here it is anyway, persevering long enough to ring my bell, quite despite me. Dave’s piece, and the artful presentation of the video team, gave me the first literally jaw-dropping art experience of sculpture I’ve had in quite a while. And I haven’t even seen the damn thing in person. The Corning Museum is in Corning, New York.

My great impression does not make the phenomenon or the art form wholly and suddenly good, as good as it just seemed blithely and dismissively bad. The fraught history of black-white cultural interplay. The vicious underbelly of folk-barter economy turned vicious, cartel war machine. The radical divergence in outcomes for transgressors on different sides of loathsome social divides. The ecological optics of literally combusting NatGas into the atmosphere for decades as a form of personal expression.

So now it’s complicated. But that’s what Dave’s piece, and the more of Dave’s pieces I look at online, give me back. It’s always complicated. Unless I get in the way with some pitiful, unhelpful need to make it simple.

Well done, Dave.

Well done, Corning.

Well done, Rakows.

How could you have known it’d be this good?

Update: The Museum has posted a recording of Dave’s lecture at Corning.

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