Glass with class

What is cutting-edge glass art doing in a grand antique shop?

THE CONTINENTALS have always been good at it. In previous centuries we British had the knack. Mixing the old with the new, the traditional with the contemporary was once the very essence of the English stately home. More recently there has been a divide between modernism and what is known as "period style": antiques in the drawing-room, stainless steel in the kitchen, and never the twain shall meet.

But as we get happier with modernism there are signs that this separatist attitude is relaxing. Take, for example, the current exhibition at antique- dealers Mallett which mixes late-19th-century glass furniture with work by contemporary artist in glass Danny Lane.

Mallett is renowned for its antique glass, and its resident expert, John Smith, is a world authority. In seriously elegant rooms, museum- quality antiques command serious prices. An unlikely setting for the chunky, funky, industrially beautiful work of American Danny Lane, best known for his stacked balustrading in the V&A glass gallery.

Danny admits he was initially uneasy at the prospect of exhibiting in this bastion of stately taste. He would rather think of his glass furniture as art - "I guess my chairs are fairly unsittable," he ventures in his transatlantic drawl, "more sculptures of chairs than chairs."

He need not have worried. "Breaking with Tradition" is an exciting exhibition, not simply because the pieces it brings together are exceptional but because of the way it juxtaposes the very modern with the antique. At the centre of Bourdon House a new showroom has been created, a grand, double-height, windowless space, painted a pale apple green. Walking into it is like entering an underwater palace. The end wall is filled by a vast circular mirror. Swimming beneath it is a giant table, a puddle of limpid seawater, frozen and raised on solidified whirlpools. Towers of glass waver and ripple to make consoles, chairs, lamps and sculptures.

Far from being overpowered by these tours de force, the Victorian feats of engineering in glass by Osler and Baccarat glitter confidently alongside; a table which could be cut from ice; a pair of sparkling thrones for a maharaja and, hanging above it all, a 50-light Osler chandelier. What is interesting is the way that old and new benefit from their close association. Sadly, with prices ranging between pounds 20,000 and pounds 250,000, this is not something that most of us can try at home.

The exhibition runs until 22 May at Bourdon House, 2 Davies Street, London W1 (0171- 629 2444)

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