Chihuly Exhibition

Nathanial Goodman Contemporary Art Prof. Kira vanLil

Exhibition Paper : Dale Chihuly

Dale Chihuly is a world class, renowned glass artist. Chihuly was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1941. In 1967, he received a degree in interior design from the University of Washington, and went on to study at the University of Wisconsin, and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he received a Masters of Science in Sculpture, and a Master’s of Fine arts respectively. Following the completion of his Master’s degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, Chihuly went on to build the glass program there.

Chihuly is a very successful glass artist. In 2005 the Seattle Times estimated his earnings at twenty nine million dollars.  He has been invited to numerous exhibitions, become apart of over 200 collections, writes and instructs on the topics of glass and contemporary art,  and still makes work. In 1976 Dale was involved in a serious automobile accident in London, as a result of which he lost his left eye. In 1979 while body surfing he dislocated his right shoulder rendering him unable to handle the tools necessary to blow glass. After this Chihuly stepped back, hired assistants, and started working from a more administrative standpoint, directing the tradesmen making his work.

On the twenty-seventh of April, I had the opportunity to view some of Dale’s work at the Foothills Art Center in Golden, Co.  The show was entitled Chihuly Venetions: From the George R. Stroemple Collection.  Stroemple is a philanthropist, humanitarian, and veteran. He serves on numerous boards and is an advocate for multiple foundations. The man made bank, bought some excellent glass, and has been kind enough to allow its viewing by the public until June thirtieth, of this year.

Venice, and more specifically the island of Murano are know as the world’s epicenters of the finest glasswork. Between 1200 and 1500 C.E. there was a huge influx of trades people to this region. This led to the development of the Venetian aesthetic, and standard of glass blowing. This includes but is not limited to an assortment of bold color, a high quality of clarity in the glass (transparency, and air content), and texturing.

The Venetian body of work is an interesting assemblage of glass. The advent of the series was in July of 1988. The entirety of the work was completed over seven separate blows, each lasting approximately two weeks.  This manifested over many years. Chihuly employed the service of two master blowers, one American and one Venetian to complete the series. The collection was inspired by Venetian pieces from the 1920’s and the 1930’s that Chihuly observed in Italy. Venice has proved to be a source for Chihuly to find inspiration, revitalization, and focus. Needless to say he found it for this series. Chihuly admits both in video and writing that his aims were lower in the beginning of the project. He made sketches and knew what he wanted made upon his yearly association with Lino Tagliapietra, an Italian glass master. Chihuly expressed concern in style and aesthetic in partnering with the Italian master. He preferred working with the gaffers he had trained, as they were familiar with his own workings and aesthetics. The Italian aesthetic seemed polar to Dale’s own, favoring symmetry and order over his own a-symmetric preference. The works were rooted in a fantasy in which Dale pretended to be a designer in the 1920’s and 1930’s. This quickly faded as Chihuly began to work with Maestro Tagliapietra. As Chihuly states, the work quickly developed: it seemed to grow, become more frivolous, and bolder in color. At a certain point, he sought to refine his style and work. Realizing that the bigger pieces were limiting their own expansiveness, he sought to make smaller more elaborate pieces.

I enjoyed the Venetian pieces. Structurally they are simple; an assemblage of cylinders ranging in size and dimension. Some are tall, others are short. Usually tall was paired with narrow, and short, usually with wide, creating vases, and platters of all sorts. The basic forms were enhanced with a variety of décor. Chihuly tends to work from natural themes, so naturally, many leaves, and sea-life forms manifested. There were also more contemporary shapes that found their way to the surfaces. My two favorite Piccolo Venitians on display were a serving dish with flora surface (complete with leaves and vines), and a taller vase with rectangular protuberances extending past its boundaries, presenting an illusion of greater volume. The dish was green and translucent in its entirety. The vase was more opaque. It was greenish with white and black streaks. The rectangular protuberances were a bright translucent orange, providing sharp contrast with the surface of the form.

Also featured in the show were Putti. These were basally functional pieces, elaborately complimented by different life forms contained in their volumes. The life forms were dramatic. Most prominently represented in the glass was sea life. Chihuly believes, perhaps rightfully so that aquatic creatures (in particular lobster), look their very best in glass. This is potentially rooted in Chihulys rearing in the North West, proximal to the ocean, and the roots of glass culture in Venice an surrounding islands. Alas I did not see one crustacean much less, arthropod represented in the artwork, however I rather enjoyed this portion of the exhibit; dare I say it was favored by me. The archetypal Putti, created by Chihuly, is a plain, large bottle, with an elaborate lid, with Putti, or creatures, often sea life.  A putto (putti is plural), is a non secularized cupid, not to be confused with a cherub which ranks amongst the second order of angels. My favorite Putti on display was a large dish serving what appeared to be a dragon or lochness monster. This was ridden by a putto. The glass was a turquoise-ish green, only surmounted in beauty and character by the Carribean Sea.

The centerpieces of the show were the Laguna Chandeliers. These were assemblages of up to one thousand individual glass pieces. I was told that these were taken apart, and shipped individually. I found it fascinating that every time the pieces were assembled, they manifested differently; that there was no set way of assembling them. Also, Chihuly hired a man to tour with the pieces, and clean them. Evidently the gallery was not trusted to do so. Certainly I would not want that responsibility.  The chandeliers were wonderfully frivolous.  They had fantastic twisting spires, large  bulbous masses, and an assemblage of sea life surface decor, ranging from fish and sharks, to eels, and even putti. Quite discomforting to be around at any rate, because it is hard to get close enough to them to comfortably examine them. They were also quite large, approximately eight feet in diameter.

I thought the Chihuly show was alright. The video was the most interesting part for me. I enjoyed watching the process of glass being  blown, sculpted and shaped. It is an incredibly romantic process, and fascinates me as a ceramic artist. I enjoy how the glass can be removed from the furnace while near molten, be shaped, and when it cools, be put back in to re-achieve the state. It was neat to see Lino Tagliapietra work, if only on a display screen. Quite frankly glass technique blew my mind. The work however, was less appealing. Certainly it was complex, but it did not do much for me. I made some sketches, but I would never make anything like what Chihuly makes in ceramics. I found it overall to be to frivolous, and as sculpture, too delicate and scary to be anywhere near, much less to show off to guests. Needless to say the glass technique is phenomenal, and highly technical, but this does not translate into direct appreciation for me. I was surprised to find my lack of appreciation in it associated with a lack of conceptual strata. Usually I set myself in opposition to work that is grounded in the conceptual sphere, but I have found Chihuly’s work to be lacking in mental stimulation. It seems to purely tickle the visual pleasure centers of my brain.

4 Responses

  1. I appreciate your honest reaction to Chihuly’s work. I have also seen a show of his and would agree that his art has more to do with the impressive nature of the actually act of creation, and glass work, than any conceptual purpose. The pieces are stunning and vibrant, but they lack very much of a conceptual basis. This doesn’t bother me at all personally because I find their beauty to be inspiring and reminiscent of natural forms such as sea anemone and coral. However, I totally see where you are coming from as an artist who appreciates having more than just visual appeal behind a work.


    I found Chihuly’s work personally to be better then just alright! Although I didn’t go see an exhibition of his so maybe I stand corrected. When looking up who he was I found the above glass sculpture, which I found to be so incredible, spontaneous, vibrant, and lively! I definitely see your reasoning for liking the video most. Maybe the finished product is fascinating, but the process of making that would be awe inspiring. I’m glad you saw this exhibition and wrote your paper on it, reading this at least made me want to look at more of his artworks which I never knew existed in the first place! It was interesting to see your point of view as well!

  3. Nice paper Nate. I am a fan of Chihuly’s work. i’ve seen three or four different shows of his including at galleries and hotels in Las Vegas and an amazing collection at the art museum in Oklahoma City and am always stunned at the number of pieces that go into the works and the beauty of the colors and flow of the installations. He seems to love to create an environment to transport the viewer into. and he loves to defy gravity, hanging the pieces in great ways from the ceilings and walls, bringing them to life. And the big columns of writhing glass that reach the ceilings always stop me. I like works that have some concept to them as well but find that there is a need for art that does just beautify the space and keep us all in wonder. maybe the concept is to just tickle that part of all of our brain and nothing else.

  4. You did a really great job giving a history of Dale Chihuly and his work and I appreciated the extra research that you obviously did for the paper. I have always been a fan but have never been able to see any of his work in person, and I am glad to have read your paper because I will take advantage of seeing the exhibition. Also, your paper has me questioning his work even more, because I am now thinking that it really doesn’t ignite any real conceptual thinking in me. I also agree and think that the videos of the process are more interesting than the pieces themselves, but nonetheless I will always find his works to be constantly interesting and evolving.

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