New York Botanical Garden’s ‘Chihuly’ Exhibition Illuminates Brilliant Light and Color
Dale Chihuly, world-renown glass artist non pareil, has avidly embraced the concept of evolving his artistry. In his thirst to investigate ancient techniques from the masters of glass blowing in Venice, a skill which has been traced to Roman times, Dale Chihuly in 1968 applied for and received a Fulbright to study at the Venini glass factory. From that time on a new avant garde movement in hand-blown glass sculpting as a fine art was born. Since then Dale Chihuly’s revolution in this fine art has burgeoned with amazing stylistic innovations of an exuberance and color radiance that are internationally venerated as the signature genius of Dale Chihuly, who is a consummate believer in the possibilities of glass.
Throughout the spring and summer until October 29th, Chihuly’s spectacular masterworks are appearing in a completely new iteration at the New York Botanical Garden’s Chihuly Exhibit. Considering that it took over ten years for Chihuly to return to NYBG, where his amazing installations in 2006 were first introduced to New York City, this is no small feat. The current exhibit was years in the planning, as Dale Chihuly, his team and the NYGB team considered and imagined a show which would honor the last exhibit and enhance his current artistic revolutions. This is never easy where Dale Chihuly’s work is concerned because it is nearly impossible to keep up with his energy and enthusiasm.
In 2006 his exquisitely delicate Blue Herons situated amidst the reeds and plant life at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory Courtyard’s Tropical Pool absolutely astonished. They are deemed a work of art in their own right. Should they or should they not be included almost eleven years later? They have been and if you saw them in 2006, look for them in a stunning new display.
Yes, it has been a long time coming, but NYBG Chihuly is so worth it. This artist has returned in an exhibition that is even more majestic than his first.
The current exhibit is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience for tourists and New Yorkers alike, especially if they have never seen Chihuly’s masterpieces in any showcases around the world or visited the Chihuly Studio in the state of Washington. That his artistic genius now boldly graces the New York Botanical Garden’s living landscape and settled in unique arrangements is an opportunity that will never happen again.
Chihuly architectural installations have been configured around the world wherever glass can be staged and organically connected by him: botanical gardens, in, over and around water, in forests, canals, in museums, in deserts, in the most ancient of cities, (Jeruselum and Venice), indeed anywhere his intuition and joy brings them. His exotic sculptures have propelled light beams to visitors’ eyes, have touched their souls and have uplifted their hearts. When you see his work you must acknowledge whether to a lesser or larger extent, that here is a wondrous beauty in a substance whose infinite possibilities you probably have never considered. Over the ten year period Dale Chihuly has traveled the world with exhibits, won awards, and plumbed the depths of his unconscious where true artistic creation lies, he has continued to evolve and revolutionize.
To give you an idea, his work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Just viewing all that his exhaustive career has spanned, glimpses of which you will see in this exhibition, you can’t help but be amazed. That is one of the most vital features of NYBG Chihuly. Through its organizational details lovingly presented, you are able to understand the arc of Dale Chihuly’s journey of evolution since his early days as an initiate in Venice, to a mature artist who is currently refining his artistry using other mediums, a number of which appear in the more than 20 installations that took three weeks to ship in and set up at the Garden.
As has been mentioned, the NYBG was in discussion with the team at The Chihuly Studio years before, until they were ready to set dates and finalize the schedule. This was after they selected legendary works and designated themes with an expansion of a Chihuly exhibit which would mirror the expansion that has been occurring at the NYBG. Of course, newly innovated pieces would be included which may be found in the Native Plant Garden and the conservatory Courtyard’s Tropical Pool.
The result is stunning. The ebullient, striking beauty of Chihuly’s glass innovations evoke unique harmonies with plants and flowers in the Garden’s smaller venues and against the verdant, rolling landscape of stark, shadowy pines, water garden rushes and grasses, and eye-catching floral springtime and summer borders. Specifically arranged to offer surprises and gobsmacking moments as one saunters along Garden way or on ancillary paths, the glass creations are in one-of-a-kind displays. With thoughtful precision, the selections of his works were chosen to evoke an indefinable aura and exceptionalism for the beholder. Combined, the artistic panorama in glass provides a unity and pageantry that will never be seen again after the 29th of October.
This singular exhibition of his work, which is a retrospective that includes earlier creations together with new artistic achievements unfolds throughout the New York Botanical Garden as a celebration of Dale Chihuly’s life, career and timeless conceptualizations. Indeed, if Dr. Carl Gustav Jung (author of books on art and the unconscious), were alive to view some of Chihuly’s achievements over the last four and one-half decades since he co-founded the international Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State (1971), he would have embraced Chihuly’s unconscious impulses to allow intuition and in-the-moment serendipity to unleash the power of breath, heat and fire’s natural elements in the creation of never before imagined or visualized hand-blown glass artistry.
If you listen to Dale Chihuly’s discussion of how he and his team worked on his tour in Ireland, Finland and Mexico to eventually showcase in Italy, you note how Chihuly allows the realm of intuition and the spontaneous to dance in his imagination; then you will understand what inspires his artistic creativity which is a fusion of playful whimsy and joyful intuition. This is the fuel that energizes this artist. We are fortunate to be witnessing these works at NYBG which symbolize Dale Chihuly’s ethos…which has come into a full expression in our time.
The exhibition includes more than twenty Chihuly installations. Various glass constructions were selected to be showcased in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory’s living theater displays in the Palms of the World Gallery and in the hallway vista which leads up to the seasonal display rotunda of the Conservatory where you may see the splendid White Tower With Fiori.
This installation has an interesting origination. Because some of the fabulous hues in White Tower With Fiori (and others in the adjoining vista that are pale purple), can only be created with rare elements that the U.S. bans, the phenomenal work was made in 1997 in the Czech Republic. The rare mineral combined with silica turned the glass to a lustrous, glassine, pale pink. This color, Chihuly chose for the delicate flowers that surround the tower. Only when the piece was finished could it be shipped back to the U.S.
If you move through the various sections of the conservatory, you will come upon surprises that will visually startle. Tucked among the lush, dark plantings are lovely, slender, tapering swan’s-neck-shaped pieces that arise from a pool of water in which their white reflections shimmer. In the conservatory vista of the Aquatic Plants and Vines Gallery, you will note the lily pond and arising from the water-splaying fountain as if growing there, are the eye-popping, crashing colors of his Macchia Forest, 2017, in an exceptional and new arrangement. In these installations Dale Chihuly’s artistry of glass and water reflect and enhance one another in a visual fluidity that draws the eye and soul because they transcend into archetypes.
Water features heavily in this exhibition as it does in all Dale Chihuly’s exhibitions. In videos discussing how he likes to work and how he worked in his fabulous exhibition Chihuly Over Venice, he and his team suspended large glass chandeliers (hand-blown in glassworks in Finland, Ireland and Mexico), in Venetian buildings and over the canals in a presentation that is unparalleled in historical meaning and splendor for the sheer audacity of it. Chihuly has said that he is “always drawn to water.” He has decried that water is “extremely important to his work and being,” perhaps because “water is extraordinarily creative.”
Thus, it is appropriate that the many installations found in this Chihuly Experience at the Garden feature water. His pieces are featured in the pools or fountains in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Outside, the welcoming sculpture as you enter the Conservatory Gate is Red Reeds on Logs, 2017. The high-powered-red reeds are pumped up by the reflecting pool upon which they are situated and ping off the glinting surface of the water below.
New artworks inspired by Chihuly’s summer 1975 Artpark installation (when he collaborated with Seaver Leslie), are Koda Study #1 and #2 (in the Native Plant Garden), and Koda Study #3 in the Conservatory Courtyard. The first two follow Dale’s intuitive impulse toward water. The works are made of polycarbonate sheets, another medium he originated for his art, and they create intriguing effects as light bounces through them during the day, to twilight.
Chihuly’s vibrant constructions are also exhibited at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. There, you may see his sculpture, Blue Polyvitro Crystals, situated in the Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life that looks like huge chunks of blue ice that will never melt. This work in polyvitro demonstrates Chihuly’s love of experimenting in various mediums. He has applied his talents to innovate in paint, sculpture, polyvitro, glass and neon (check out the new installation Neon 206).
His gorgeous Seaforms (a favorite of mine), are in a glass case inside the library. His Fire Orange Baskets (an innovative design which he gleaned looking at Northwest Native American baskets), are on another display floor of the library. And if you have a bit of time, return periodically during a different season to view how the light impacts his works outdoors as they are transformed by the sun as the earth transits its orbit. And spend some time in the library (on a rainy day).
There, you will note the transformation of Dale Chihuly’s career, shown with a revelation of his early works, a glass series and other drawings and paintings on paper. These highlight another facet of Chihuly’s expression of talent but also demonstrate a practical use. They were a way that Dale Chihuly could convey what he wanted his team to help him execute in his innovative designs. Words and/or gestures are rather limited for the crafting in glass, when an illustration (granted that the artist has illustrative skill as Dale Chihuly has), is a stellar tool of assistance to execute one’s conceptualizations.