Imagine … every conceivable variation of reds, yellows, blues, purple, oranges and greens swirling inside dozens of ruffled spheroids, wildly clustered, floating in space. Just the way I imagine creation.
I saw the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle last week. Couldn’t resist. Opened in May, it’s billed as the world’s largest Dale Chihuly exhibit. It’s not an exhibit, however. It’s a museum of exhibits nested within each other, like his glass baskets.
To avoid being overwhelmed by museums (which happens quite easily), I’ve trained myself to concentrate on a single visual souvenir—usually. For this visit, my choice was the Persian Ceiling.
While Chihuly was exploring new forms in 1986, his Persian series came to life. Typically displayed on pedestals, these initial works were often nested, smaller into larger. It wasn’t until years later that he began to compose the ripple-edged objects into overhead installations on panes of glass and lit from above.
I’ve seen his similar glass ceiling installations, the Fiori di Como at the Belagio in Los Vegas and the Bridge of Glass at Tacoma Art Museum. This work, however, is far more immersive, I think because it’s tightly wrapped by four walls. Undulating colors literally implode into jewel-like shadows and reflections against the white.
The Persian Ceiling—a fusion of human breath and intense heat—appears caught in suspended animation between liquid and solid. Like the Inland Northwest, which was crustified repeatedly millions of years ago by hardened layers of lava, then liquidized again and again by cataclysmic glacial floods during the most recent Ice Age.
It’s this knowing, you see, that accounts for his appeal. Chihuly’s hand-blown glass for me is like a mirror of the turbulent metamorphosis that shaped this part of the world, our tiny fraction of the cosmos.
I’ve long admired Chiuhly; it’s not something I’m proud of. In some ways, it suggests a weakness, to be so easily seduced by the ingratiatingly beautiful objects, how they quickly put me into a state of reverie. Yet, his oeuvre is also widely criticized as repugnant. Consider the comments published recently in the Huffington Post, harsh words, despite the fact museums, galleries and corporations worldwide clamor to exhibit and collect his work.
Indeed, repugnance describes my own response to the excessiveness of the museum itself. As highly skilled and talented an artist that Chihuly is, there’s far too much over-the-top glorification. I felt queasy after leaving the museum. As if I’d eaten an entire box of the very finest of chocolates.
Should you see the museum if you’re in Seattle? Yes, but prepare to de-compress afterwards. It’s quite simply too much of a good thing.
PS To see a few dozen more images, click here for my Dale Chihuly album on Flickr.