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Published March 3, 2020

Jana Sterbak

Jana Sterbak (born in 1955),* Planetarium* (Montserrat Version), 2000-2002, blown glass, aluminum tables, 134.5 x 499.7 x 103 cm. MMFA, purchase, through the generosity of Miriam Aaron Roland

Planetarium (Montserrat Version)

The Museum is pleased to announce the acquisition of Jana Sterbak’s monumental work Planetarium (Montserrat Version). Sterbak originally created this work for a project at the Puget’s Chapel in Marseille that never came to be. Different versions of it have been shown at Montmajour Abbey in Arles, the Popes’ Palace in Avignon and Montserrat in Catalonia. Our Planetarium consists of globes that were shown at these three sites, arranged on aluminum tables custom-built to the artist’s specifications. The piece was unveiled upon Sterbak being presented with the Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec at the MMFA on October 9, 2018.

Between 1998 and 2006, Sterbak created a series of works with the help of master glassmakers at the Centre International de Recherche sur le Verre et les Arts Plastiques (CIRVA) in Marseille. Among them were Narcisse (2001) and Planetarium (2000-2002). Drawing inspiration from the sphere, the foundational shape in glassblowing, Sterbak created oversized globes in novel colours and textures. To achieve planets of such imposing dimensions requires tremendous skill, and Sterbak’s glassblowers found themselves pushing the boundaries of their craft. In addition, the artist brought to bear her research on esthetic effects, incorporating plaster and sodium bicarbonate into the glass in order to create clouds and craters on the globes’ surfaces.

This sunless planetary system evokes the myth of Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders. The alignment also echoes the artist’s interest in Stephen Hawking’s theories of black holes and the birth of the universe. Sterbak associates the magma of molten glass with the magma of planets, suns and the first great explosion that started it all – the Big Bang. With this installation, she has scaled down the vastness of the universe to a human level, and the fragility of the globes subtly reflects our own vulnerability in relation to the cosmos. As Teresa Blanch Malet poetically expresses in a short essay on the artist’s practice, “The insignificance of life is in constant friction between damage and emanation. This double quality seems to be, for the artist, the great cosmic prowess of man’s wrestling with the universe.”1

Jana Sterbak is one of the most recognized Canadian contemporary artists both at home and abroad. She studied visual arts at Concordia University (BFA, 1977) and the University of Toronto (1980-1982). Among her accomplishments, she represented Canada at the 2003 Venice Biennale with her project From Here to There, she received the Paul-Émile Borduas award in 2017 and was named to the Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2018. Sterbak has created many striking works inspired by the human condition and ancient myths (Sisyphus, Atlas, the Golem and others). Her works are found in many prestigious collections, including those of Paris’s Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the National Gallery of Canada.


1 Teresa Blanch Malet, “Jana Sterbak. From Body to Cosmos,” in Jana Sterbak a Montserrat: una Presència (Montserrat, Barcelona: Museu de Montserrat, 2014), p. 17.

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