Glass In The Garden | Dale Chihuly

For decades, he has given aspiring artists and technicians the gift of his unstoppable energy, drive, and ability to imagine new possibilities in glass. He has done more for the art of glass than any person since Louis Comfort Tiffany.

 

Missouri Botanical Gardens | St. Louis (April 30–Oct. 31, 2006)

It’s been 10 years since Chihuly had his blockbuster exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum. It was every bit as anticipated and paparazzi’d as any Spring fashion show in Milan—every bit as awe inducing and color fantasy as anything that has been created of manmade material. The Gardens have scored an impressive coup by convincing the maestro to use the tropical Climatron as setting for a collection of his new work. The lush rainforest setting will make a perfect foil for the organic sculptures of glass.

Dale Chihuly has long been recognized as the DaVinci of glass. More than a draftsman and fabricator, he is an inventor, scientist, engineer, visionary. His strength is in extending the limits of the natural properties of glass. His genius is in making the inanimate supremely organic. Chihuly’s sculptures do not merely breathe; they writhe, they swim, they dance. The work itself is much like the plants amongst which they will be displayed: exotic, defying expectations of the natural world.

At the core of his world renown, awards, and honors, Chihuly is credited as the artist who single-handedly ratcheted the status of blown glass from the lowly designation of decorative arts to fine art. Much as he exploded the boundaries of what glass can do, he broke through the barriers of how and where glass can be seen. Environmental and installation artists, as well as sculptors and foundry artists, are championed by his efforts to bring blown glass out of the confining assumptions that it is precious and delicate. Through his bold expeditions into new territories, such as Chihuly Over Venice (1995–96), and Bridge of Glass in Tacoma (2003), he has taken the art of glass sculpture where it had never gone before.

As an artist, Chihuly is a master, but as a teacher, he is an influential megastar. From 1971 until 1989, Chihuly served as artistic director and cofounder of the Pilchuck School in Stanwood, Wash. Both the school and his current studios in Tacoma serve as meccas for artists from across the globe. For decades, he has given aspiring artists and technicians the gift of his unstoppable energy, drive, and ability to imagine new possibilities in glass. He has done more for the art of glass than any person since Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Throughout his career, explorations in color, form, and assemblage have led him to push the envelope. Trademarks of his work have always been intense color, organic shapes, and elegant lines. By fusing glass threads into the surface of his vessels, he creates contrasting patterns or drawings. More recently, beginning with his Venetian series, curved forms with elongated necks have become a predominant and baroque motif. While best recognized for his multi-part compositions, Chihuly has worked for the past decade on indoor/outdoor site-specific installations. The pieces that will be installed in the Gardens have been created with their immediate surrounding environment carefully considered as part of the design process. Like many of his more recent large-scale installations, Glass in the Garden is to be housed in a building which is itself made of glass. The artist is sensitive to the quality of natural light and its effect on his sculptures. The interplay between light and shadow, between natural beauty and created beauty, highlights the treasures that both the Missouri Botanical Garden and the artist can provide.

As unpleasant it might be to admit, this exhibition will be as hype-driven as any mega show in New York. There will be potentially long lines and short viewing times, especially during prime hours. Aware of potential inconveniences, the Gardens strongly suggest purchasing advanced tickets. Capacity limits to the show will be strictly enforced, so it is advised that ticket holders arrive one hour before ticket time.

On Thursday evenings, the Gardens will feature art as entertainment, with music, cash bar, food, and hot glass demonstrations by artists from Third Degree Glass. In addition to seeing artists in action (though, sadly, not Chihuly himself), the happy hour atmosphere will serve as a perfect theme for romantics, coupled or not. The main course (of course) will be Chihuly’s fantasies cavorting through the nighttime jungle like sprites in a midsummer’s dream. It’s a dream worth having again and again.

 

Missouri Botanical Garden Site

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