Last week I traveled to San Francisco, ostensibly to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the MOMA, which was lovely. Since we were there in the city, we went the next day to the DeYoung to see the Dale Chihuly glass exhibit, and I was truly blown away by this show, which is the largest he's ever done. We were treated to eleven rooms of spectacularly colored glass in fantastic formations, with a theatrical presentation that included lots of dark backdrops, mirrors, and lights.
We were encouraged to take photos (sans flash) and I took quite a few, though the flat representations don't quite do justice to the impact of each of the rooms. I just wanted to lose myself in each space!
The photos above and below were taken in the "Tabac Baskets" room which showcases Chihuly's enormous collection of Pendleton blankets (rows and rows on ascending dowels) and woven Northwest coast native baskets, displayed with pieces of glass that echo the styles, shapes, and colors of the baskets.
The next two photos were taken in a room where two antique rowboats from Chihuly's collection(s) were filled with glass and displayed on a mirrored surface in a darkened room. One is full of glass balls inspired by Japanese fishing floats, the other with phantasmagorical glass beings--like some outer space craft!
This next piece was hung in a roomful of hanging chandeliers. Each piece had been shipped to the site disassembled--and then assembled in place (something like putting together an artificial Christmas tree).
A roomful of black glass.....
In the next room, shown in the photo below, the ceiling had been lowered and then glass installed and lit above it. Apparently, Chihuly has a swimming pool at his studio where glass is mounted in the same way at the bottom of the pool--fantastic! It's hard to show in a photo but there are all sizes and shapes of glass including cherubs and starfish who float peacefully among the other elements. On the audio tour for this room, Chihuly said he didn't know how many pieces of glass were mounted there--maybe a thousand? Wow!
In a film accompanying the exhibit, Chilhuly talked about how he started making the "putti"--click here to see a bit more about the process on Chihuly's website.
My last two exhibit photos are of a 56-foot long glass garden called "Mille Fiori" (1,000 Flowers). Chihuly is apparently inspired by his mother's garden in Tacoma when he creates these floral exhibitions. (I love tributes to Moms!)
So given my obvious enthusiasm for this exhibit, imagine my surprise on finding the quite snotty review in the San Francisco Chronicle. The reviewer calls the show an example of "empty virtuosity", and surmises that it is probably not art because it has no intellectual content and does not hold the attention of "educated viewers". In his view, the art is simply a collection of knickknacks. Ouch!
Chihuly, who is originally from Tacoma, Washington, holds an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (yeah for RI--my home state!) and studied Venetian glass techniques on a Fulbright Fellowship in Murano after graduating. He currently lives and works in a 25,000 square foot studio, a former boathouse on Lake Union in Seattle. (I imagine this must be a spectacular place--with the collections discussed above, the swimming pool with glass at the bottom, and all the glassmaking activities going on.)
He lost his eyesight in one eye in an auto accident in 1976, and wears an eye patch which gives him the air of a cheerful pirate. Because of the resulting depth perception problems, he can no longer handle the molten glass himself. He conceptualizes his ideas on canvas (some of which were shown in the exhibit), and then works with teams of glass blowers to execute the compositions.
According to a tour guide, the glass for the DeYoung exhibit arrived in 10 semi trucks, and took 19 people to assemble. The exhibit is only at the DeYoung--it's not traveling--and it will only be there until September 28.
Photo of Dale Chihuly courtesy of Chihuly's website.