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February 3 -May 6, 2001 at OCMA, Newport Beach, Orange County

by Roberta Carasso

Howard Ben Tré's work is part of the glass revolution that is taking place. He brings the ancient art of glass into the 21st Century by infusing this very old substance, made largely from earth, with modern aesthetics and contemporary purpose. Ben Tré's art is at once archeological, architectural, sculptural, and it is a study in apt contradictions. The massive glass forms are both powerful and delicate, solid and transparent, current yet antique, referencing the male and the female, and having an aesthetic that is tied to both Eastern and Western cultures.

A master technician in industrial manufacturing, Ben Tré decided to make sculptural forms using traditional glass molding techniques. In a factory normally manufacturing functional glass products, Ben Tré turned the production line into an artist's studio, applying manufacturing acumen to devise fine art casting methods. The painstaking process requires pouring molten glass into enormous sand molds, applying intense heat, and then cooling the material for months. The cooled form is then dug out (archeological style) from the large mound of sand in which it took shape, it is sand blasted, cut, ground, and polished as its rough edges are meticulously brought to life.

Ben Tré completes each form by wrapping portions with gold leaf or installing lead bars in the glass that are covered in gold leaf. The artist is intrigued with wrapping--an idea conceived from watching his grandfather wrap himself in a prayer shawl. The translucent, green/yellow forms stand on the floor in distinct contrast to the glistening metallic wrapped accents. All of Ben Tré's works are symmetrical, each with a distinct aura that reminds one of ancient symbols or modern architectural shapes such as stele, columns, urns, figures, and altars of various types.

Currently, much of Ben Tré's work, designed and planned with the help of his wife Gay, includes architectural installations in public places--libraries, museums, hospitals, and outdoor spaces. In Boston's Post Office Square Park glass forms, structures, and columns surround a fountain with benches placed to create an appealing natural setting in an urban environment. The work, enhanced by sounds of splashing water, changing light that bounces off the glass and water, seasonal foliage, and the comings and goings of people who participate in the work, has completely altered the tone of the park. Ben Tré applies such solutions to venues around the world. A small British town has moved its center to an entirely different location, altering the flow of life, traffic articulation, and the very spirit of the atmosphere. Ben Tré has transformed the town by creating a universally appealing environment, centered on his glass structures, that responds to the aesthetic needs of the community.

Ben Tré's architectural solutions in glass are as effective as his individual sculptures, maquettes, and drawings. In his hands glass as a natural material is at home irrespective of where it is placed. In the museum’s space his translucent structures are vessels of light--a source of meditation that belies the heft of their mass.

“Wrapped Form 16,” cast
glass/lead/patina, 52 1/2 x
18 1/2 x 17 1/8”, 1999.

“Immanent Circumstance”
(detail, view of North Plaza),
Norman B. Leventhal Park, Post
Office Square, Boston, 1992.

“Bearing Figure with Alabastron,”
cast low expansion glass
/bronze/patina/gold leaf,
75 1/2 x 29 x 16 1/2”, 1996.

“Cast Form 65,” cast glass/copper
leaf/gold leaf/pigmented waxes,
28 1/2 x 9 1/4 x 4 1/4”, 1986.