Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibition
Posted by joeabbott on July 24, 2012
A couple months back the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibition opened at the Seattle Center; prior to the opening there was long debate among Seattleites as to whether this was the best way to spend public monies (on a museum to one man’s art and interests), and upon opening the Seattle Times ran an article that was tempered in enthusiasm for the venture. While the Times article noted there was “good stuff to see”
The overall design is smart and stimulating. You’ll find plentiful, excellent examples of renowned Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly’s work …
… but the article also threw veiled barbs such as
… it reads a little like a contemporary cathedral from certain angles, which might underscore the feeling that Chihuly has built a shrine to himself.
And less obscured detraction:
But here’s the downside: the fact that this center was designed by the artist, during his lifetime, and includes not just Chihuly’s art but many of his personal collections, from Native American basketry to vintage glass Christmas ornaments. It generates inevitable narcissistic undertones.
And therein lies the problem. Chihuly is present in a way that doesn’t offer much insight into his work or into glass in general, even though Chihuly has been such a force in that world.
Right down to:
Is it worth the $15-$19 price of adult admission?
Hmmm, probably not
Allow me to interject: Go. Go as soon as you can. Bring a camera. Bring a tripod. Prepare to stay a long time, prepare to be dazzled by an amazing collection of glass art, and then get your hand stamped so you can come back after dark and see the installations both when there are fewer people and when the garden art is artistically lit.
I’ll take you through the eight galleries of the installation and then through the garden area, but be prepared for poor photography: I used a point-and-shoot handheld Panasonic camera and braced it against the wall or floor to attempt to capture the installation without a flash. Many people had large SLR-style cameras … bring yours. The exhibition folks encourage you to use your cameras!
The first “gallery” is pretty simple and could just be called a nook: it held a straightforward installation from Chihuly’s early years. It’s a nice intro to the exhibition.
I sorta failed here … the room holds a large wall of Northwest baskets that had inspired Chihuly’s work with asymmetric shapes: glasswork forms that, like baskets, have sagged a bit over time and under gravity. But I was enamored of the large wall of colored blankets and their bold designs, and so I missed photographing any of the works on the wall of baskets! I did capture the center piece display of large shapes.
This is the first “wow” room. You turn a corner and there, from floor to ceiling, is a mound of glass, writhing in organic glory. For all the world looking like an oversized sea creature. Which, ironically, is what you see when you look closer and recognize that the overall piece is festooned with miniature sea animals. Around the room are many pedestals with even more glass sea creatures and sketches that inspired them.
While the center piece amazed me, the smaller forms were wonderful. I’m used to glass art that approximates the look of real creatures; some even very good. The pieces here were living creatures cast in glass and appeared exquisitely accurate. Just wonderful.
The “wows” kept coming. In this installation you enter a long room, roughly 10’x40’ that has a clear glass ceiling supported by exposed steel I-beams and, upon the glass ceiling, rests literally hundreds of shell-shaped glass forms. The glass shapes are brightly hued and strongly backlit to provide a wash of color throughout the room. If it wasn’t so wonderful, it would feel excessive. Bring on the excess!
Italian for a thousand flowers, this room is a showstopper. It’s a tour de force of color and shape and scope and … and everything! I challenge you to enter and pass through without forgetting there are other parts to the exhibition.
Ikebana and Float Boat
I loved this next room in its near quaintness after the Mille Fiori but I wish I’d included someone in my pictures to inform the scale. To describe it accurately … two row boats filled with floats and sea shapes … seems to short change this wonderful exhibit. If you’re not a Chihuly fan by this point … on an artistic level, on a pure “how did they do that” level, or any other level … consider yourself jaded.
Five chandelier pieces fill the room: the central snow-white floor-to-ceiling piece is surrounded by a green tangled piece, a blue snaky piece, a red organic piece, and an orange starburst piece. I like some of his other work a bit more so, while the room wasn’t a let-down, it did allow me to cool my avid “what can he do next” crassness. It was fun to circle the room and look at each piece from afar and then up close.
The Italian word “macchia” means “spot” and is used in referenced to Chihuly’s interest in using all 300 colors available to him in the hot shop. The room contains roughly a dozen large vessels containing hundreds of colors. The craftsmanship of the work is exquisite: the interior color is vibrant without muting often different exterior colors; the lip of each bowl is a contrasting pure color; and the size makes for a bit of head-scratching when trying to figure out how they created these without machines. Wonderful.
Time for another “wow”. The Gardens are access through a Glass House, in which a 100’ long “lei” of glass flowers floats across the top. Through the airy expanse, you can see the Space Needle and along the sides and end you get a peek at the Garden. The Garden wraps around the Glass House and has a half dozen areas and phenomenal centerpieces. This is the area you want to return to after dark. It’s bold and exquisite and creative and … and “wow”. Spend some time here, enjoy the intertwining of glass and garden, and be ready to marvel at a shrine built by one man to himself: it’s well deserved.
A final note: the exhibition has provided several photographers who roam the installation and will happily shoot your picture and allow you to email it to yourself. They’re wonderfully helpful people and one gal went as far as laying on cold concrete at 10PM to get our picture at just the right angle to include the Space Needle. And it’s free. Yeah yeah, there’s the whole ticket price but this was just an unexpected gem.
While I took exception to the Times piece cited above, they also published a photo show of some 14 pictures from the exhibition, including some of the café (I didn’t enter this space) and of the installation assembly. It’s worth clicking over to their Inside the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition piece.
If you haven’t picked up on it, I’m a fan boy of this exhibition. Love the colors and shapes and creativity and the pure technological expertise required to build these pieces and show. Good stuff.
Now go. Go and enjoy the Chihuly Gardens and Glass Exhibition.