Making Contact – “Garden and Glass” Exhibition

There is a certain willfulness which brings any creative work to fruition.  Fueled by optimism and forward vision, a body of work is an unstoppable train of energy and enthusiasm for the possibilities embedded in one’s undertaking.  And when that train starts rolling and has plenty of momentum, it accumulates more energy and substance, and the desire to do what is required to see the accretion reach its destination.  The outcome is the accumulation of wisdom and experience on which the next journey is based and the next wave of momentum is founded.  That process is made manifest in the work of Dale Chihuly and the exhibition, “Garden and Glass” (newly opened in Seattle in May, 2012), which presents work across the vibrant career of the U.S. studio-glass artist.  I recently took a walk through the exhibition; here are some impressions.

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From the inside out. Rippling, corpuscular disks, spikes, bulbils, orbs, and other protrusions and protuberances populate several linked exhibit spaces, the center of which is an almost theatrical dance of forms along a black reflective conveyor – each surface and texture a translucent delight, projecting, casting, reflecting arching, arcing, coalescing then breaking apart.  There are additional galleries displaying examples of other series of works, including both the Persians and Macchia series, in their own energetic spaces – the Persian ceiling is exuberant and transfixing; the Macchia gallery a calm meditation on fluidity.  The interior exhibit concludes in an impressive conservatory (containing a floating assemblage of Persians) which transitions to the garden.  The sense of immediacy and intimacy of the interior exhibit yields to a more open and expansive experience in the daylight garden.  Alien at first glance, these esoteric glass forms “make sense” –they neither overwhelm, nor are overwhelmed by, their surroundings.  Here a clever balance is struck and the works take on new meaning in the context of landscape and surrounding architecture (the grand conservatory, exhibit hall and the neighboring Space Needle).  With the passage of time, an established garden of Chihuly glass will further fulfill the strong vision initiated by the interior exhibit.

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Art and design are always about collaboration on some level.  No work is created in a vacuum and a body of work as extensive as Dale Chihuly’s does not come into being without the contributions of a broad community of other individuals with whom one’s vision is interwoven: student-apprentices (who will go on to fulfill their own creative visions), other master artisans and technicians, collectors, institutions, family and supportive friends, not to mention an enthusiastic and appreciative “public.”  Myriad energies are involved in the nurturing of a creative career and, arguably, no work by a master (at this or any other period in history) can be viewed as other than a synthesis of these energies (rather than the accomplishments of just the one).  But as we are both part of a larger whole and unique parts, somewhere in the center of this work lies the fundamental willfulness and optimism of Dale Chihuly whose product and process are apt symbols for the dynamic and complex almalgam encountered by all humans who make art in a world outside the vacuum.

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