Michael Glancy: A personal obituary

Stefan von Bartha recalls childhood adventures with the glass artist and family friend

Stefan von Bartha recalls childhood adventures with the glass artist and family friend

Michael Glancy, born 1950 in Detroit, Michigan, has become one of the most influential and important figures within the art scene working with the medium of glass. His artworks have always been overwhelmingly fascinating for me, as they remind you of a surreal landscape by Yves Tanguy. It takes a lot these days to create something you have never seen before within the art world; his sculptural works, however, are strikingly different..

My parents organized numerous exhibitions with Michael in the ’90s and it was always a highlight when Michael and his family came to Basel. As their two sons share the same first names with their parents, I will refer to Michael and Robin as the parents, and Mike and Rob for the kids.

Michael Glancy
Trillium, 1982
Blown glass and copper
17,8 x 7,6 x 7,6 cm
Michael Glancy
Ruby Attractor, 1989
Blown glass, industrial plate glass, copper and gold leaf
22,9 x 53,3 x 40,6 cm

I remember Michael’s need for endless coffees, cigarettes, and an accent that couldn’t be more American. But he was not only an artist, he became a dear friend. Many more moments together followed and, if I am not mistaken, I am even responsible for their younger son Rob’s first real hangover.. After an opening dinner at Donati in Basel, I introduced their sons Mike and Rob to the local nightlife, and yes, in Switzerland you can drink from the age of 16, so you can imagine what this must feel like for someone from the States. Funnily enough, Michael was even kind of proud of our hangover. Robin, maybe not so much, and the next evening we had dinner in the Black Forest, alcohol-free for us kids.

Growing up and being a teenager, I had the pleasure of visiting the Glancys in Cape Cod in 1994. I was 13 years old then and flying long distance on my own with a suitcase filled with Swiss chocolate for Michael. To this day, one of the very best vacations I have ever had, and believe me, the Americans know how to celebrate a proper vacation! It was then that I discovered that July 4th is a very serious affair. We started the day with a visit to his favorite doughnut shop, which I still dream about to this day. If you think you know what a doughnut looks or tastes like, let me tell you, you have no idea how many versions exist! Michael and I continued to joke about this visit for many years and if I am ever back in Cape Cod, I will definitely take the time to go to that doughnut store once more.

Michael Glancy Art Basel, 1996
Michael Glancy at von Bartha, Schertlingasse, around 1995, with a work by Glancy on the plinth behind him

Unfortunately, our ways parted shortly after for a while but Michael and his family always stayed close to my heart. Fifteen years later, while working on a text about the history of the gallery in 2013, I thought about all the amazing people I have met as a result of growing up in the gallery. So, of course, I thought about Michael as well. Thanks to social media, I was able to reconnect with his kids who gave me his contact details and I called him at home. His voice – this memorable voice – was still the same and it felt like it had only been a week since we last spoke. It was an immediate reconnection and so we planned our reunion. Luckily, Michael and Robin visited Europe in May 2014 and we decided to meet in Basel and tie the bonds once again. I picked up Michael and Robin at the hotel and we drove to Donati Restaurant, to have lunch with my parents – who had no idea Michael and Robin were in town. Little did they know who would be accompanying me that day; I think they expected to be introduced to a new girlfriend but no, even better, Michael was back in town. Since that day we kept close contact and another wonderful and very memorable evening in New York followed when I finally met with Mike and Rob again. As always, time with the Glancy family was a real highlight and always absolutely unique.

In 2020, Robin contacted me with the devastating news that Michael was not well and had been diagnosed with lung cancer. We spoke over the phone and it was a great recap of our history, his legacy, and our friendship. He was able to enjoy the summer with his family in Cape Cod, ride his new boat and enjoy a Bourbon. Gosh, he loved Bourbon. Michael passed away on August 29, 2020 in Cape Cod, surrounded by his family. My dear friend Michael, we will dearly miss you and will never forget you. How could one forget that voice!

  • Header image: Michael Glancy in his studio, Photo: Scott Lapham, 2013.

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