Exhibition review: Tom Moore, Abundant Wonder, Glenelg

With whimsical storytelling and tech wizardry, Tom Moore reinstates the sense of wonder in exhibition making.

In a gentle voice, Tom Moore asks: ‘If you want to have wonder, why not abundant wonder, rather than a measly bit of wonder?’ It is the first introduction visitors have to Moore’s exhibition via a video clip.

The exhibition at the Glenelg Town Hall is the final stop in a 12-gallery regional tour that has been underway since 2020, part of the JamFactory’s ICONS series. Over 64,000 visitors have flocked to Moore’s exhibition, with a number of the works now promised to collections. But the exhibition’s success is not surprising. That sense of wonder is imprinted on the faces of visitors to the gallery space – from those who are encountering glass art for the first time to those who have spent a career trying to master this difficult medium. While the feeling of joy is what connects them, Moore’s practice has many touch points.

What few realise, viewing Moore’s installation, is the depth of research and historical triggers that are the foundation to these pieces, which have become a signature to his 30-year career. From the Luttrell Psalter illustrated medieval manuscripts, to novelty glass vessels from the 16th century and early 17th century Venetian trick glass (diagrams of which were published by Libavius in 1600), Moore traces a lineage and then finds his place within it.

The artist started his PhD in 2015, the same time that he began this body of work. It took him around five years to create the more than 110 sculptures that sit atop custom pedestals and backdrops. To put it simply, one is transported to “Tom’s world” in Abundant Wonder.

Tom Moore: ‘Abundant Wonder’, installation view Glenelg Town Hall. Photo: ArtsHub.

He describes this flotilla of hybrid animal-plant critters as a ‘cast of characters that teeter between fusion and confusion’. They give us permission to embrace our wildest imaginations – to feel like a child again and, for a brief moment, to stop filtering or censoring our grasp on the world. And the longer one spends in “Tom’s world”, the more we start to recognise it’s offering a warning to us all.

Glass is a great material to convey a sense of fragility that comes with all unique things – both in terms of individual expression, but also regarding the environment, as species become extinct due to the climate crisis. To grab a line from Moore’s monograph (published to coincide with his ICONS exhibition): ‘There is something curious about using fossil fuel to make dinosaurs.’

Tom Moore: ‘Abundant Wonder’, installation view Glenelg Town Hall. Photo: ArtsHub.

He adds: ‘I seek to address the contradiction of utilising a particularly resource-depleting and polluting traditional craft to address troubling ecological issues with hope and humour.’

Glass artists tend to specialise – they are lamp workers or glass blowers, or they choose to kiln-form glass. Moore moves seamlessly across the hot shop and “the torch” creating intricate elements for his sculptures, and bringing together age-old techniques with a contemporary eye for storytelling. Few artists have that creative and technical dexterity.

Coming back to the idea of “wonder” – a term we don’t use that much today – Moore is a wizard at his craft and inspires awe. He is a master storyteller and understands how to create a journey through an exhibition for an audience.

At each venue, he has invited children to create their own “character” – with one selected to be created by Moore and gifted to the child. That stretch, between saluting the past heritage of glass and enlivening the spirit of a next generation, is an unspoken aspect of this exhibition tour worth mentioning.

Tom Moore: Abundant Wonder
Bay Discovery Centre, Glenelg Town Hall
7 July – 3 September 2023

A JamFactory ICON Touring exhibition, and presented as part of the 2023 SALA Festival.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina