Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Glass in the Desert

The Desert Botanical Garden of Phoenix is the site of an exhibition by artist Dale Chihuly entitled Chihuly: The Nature of Glass.

From the Garden's brochure: Garden exhibitions of his work have been mounted at the New York Botanical Garden, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, Phipps Conservatory and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

Garden displays enable the artist to juxtapose monumental, organically shaped sculptural forms with beautiful landscaping, establishing a direct and immediate interaction between nature, art, and environmental light.

From Chihuly's biography: While elements of the earlier installations allude to natural phenomena such as icicles and vegetation, gardens provide the dominant theme in Chihuly’s most recent ones.

This is Chihuly's first exhibition in an outdoor desert environment.

When we entered the Garden, we began thinking about the style of glass creation that would blend with a specific section of the Garden.

This approach lasted only moments. We abandoned this analytic approach and adopted one of simply admiring both the Garden and the glass work.

Again, from his biography: Chihuly’s recent installations at museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Musuem (2008), reveal the artist’s progression toward a logical next direction: installations that are gardens themselves.

Starting as a massing of churning forms and vibrant colors, the tonality of these installations has changed to embrace a more limited, single color palate, reminiscent of the early Chandeliers. In many ways, Chihuly has come full circle; now using his mature vocabulary, he captures in these installations the joie de vivre of the plantlike forms of his early neon environments.

Dale Chihuly is most frequently lauded for revolutionizing the Studio Glass movement by expanding its original premise of the solitary artist working in a studio environment to encompass the notion of collaborative teams and a division of labor within the creative process. However, Chihuly's contribution extends well beyond the boundaries both of this movement and even the field of glass: his achievements have influenced contemporary art in general.

Chihuly’s practice of using teams has led to the development of complex, multipart sculptures of dramatic beauty that place him in the leadership role of moving blown glass out of the confines of the small, precious object and into the realm of large-scale contemporary sculpture. In fact, Chihuly deserves credit for establishing the blown glass form as an accepted vehicle for installation and environmental art beginning in the late twentieth century and continuing today.

Stylistically over the past forty years, Chihuly's sculptures in glass have explored color, line, and assemblage. Although his work ranges from the single vessel to indoor/outdoor site-specific installations, he is best known for his multipart blown compositions.

These works fall into the categories of mini-environments designed for the tabletop as well as large, often serialized forms that are innovatively displayed in groupings on a wide variety of surfaces ranging from pedestals to bodies of natural water. Masses of these blown forms also have been affixed to specially engineered structures that dominate large exterior or interior spaces.

The glass seemed quite capable of "surviving" in the harsh environment of the desert. Unfortunately, the "life expectancy" of the exhibit is only 10 more weeks.

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