It is hard not to feel inspired after visiting the new Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit, opening to the public today (!) Monday, May 21.
It is also hard, as a local, not to approach the new exhibit with an air of cynicism – superiority, even.
Chihuly isn't new, after all. He has been installing works in hotels, banks, theaters, universities and public spaces around the world since the 1980s. Saying you are familiar with Dale Chihuly’s work in the Northwest is on par with explaining your familiarity with pine trees...or Dick’s hamburgers.
For that reason, there will be few surprises for most visitors in terms of what objects are shown at Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Boats overflow with the glass balls or “Ma Chihuly’s Floats” we’ve come to know so well in Tacoma Art Museum’s atrium; the Medusa-hair chandeliers are just as wild as those you’ve seen hanging in Benaroya Hall’s lobby; and a colorful ceiling mimics the ocean floor just as beautifully as the one installed on the Bridge of Glass in Tacoma (or the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas).
What is different – and worth paying the ticket price – is how the objects are displayed.This is the first time that I've seen Chihuly’s work when it wasn’t a guest, or temporary invader (or a decorative afterthought) in a space. At Chihuly Garden and Glass, in fact, the space has been manipulated very carefully to showcase the work.
Several Chihuly Garden and Glass employees comment that Dale Chihuly was extremely hands-on in the process of building the exhibit. From the color of the walls to the number of accordions hanging from the ceiling in the cafe, to the locally-made wares featured in the gift shop (like the beautiful Pendelton blankets shown above; they feature designs by Chihuly)—it has all been green-lighted by the man himself after careful research and (sometimes) multiple rounds of revision.
Knowing that, there is no doubt the art is displayed precisely to the artist's specifications. So even the way the work casts shadows upon the wall (a beautiful side effect throughout the exhibit) seems intentional.
Even if you have seen the “Mille Fiore,” or “Neon Forests” or “Baskets” before – I think you’ll find there is plenty left to discover about Chihuly’s work given this new, more holistically crafted context, which includes drawings and renderings displayed with the works they imagined; collected items that inspired the work's theme; or just stunning lighting that shows the work at its most dramatic.
For every new room you enter in this exhibit, you witness the fruits of a different decade of Chihuly’s career spent pursuing the same questions with increasingly bold tactics: how big, how colorful, how thin - how unlike glass can glass become before it breaks?
For every collection contained in the café’s shadow-box tables, you’ll see deeper evidence of a nostalgia for the tools and toys that occupy a simpler, more playful life (toy cars, shaving brushes, strange string holders that look like spooky dolls).
And for every Northwest artist and craftsman who has been hand-picked to sell their eco-conscious wares in the gift shop: you’ll realize it’s not all about Chihuly.
Sure, it mostly is.
But it is also a wild, colorful, ostentatious celebration of creativity – and how imagination is, sometimes, the only limit to what one person can create.
WHAT: Chihuly Garden and Glass
WHERE: Seattle Center (adjacent to the Space Needle); 305 Harrison Seattle
WHEN: Opens Monday, May 21. Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-8pm; Fri-Sun 10am-9pm
HOW MUCH: $12-$19 (King County residents receive a discount)
WHY: A retrospective exhibit of glass artist Dale Chihuly’s career, featuring indoor and outdoor displays of handblown glass art.
BONUS FEATURES: The audio tour, available for free on your smart phone thanks to the amazing website built by local company Tag Creative (you don't have to be inside the museum to experience it); the view of the Space Needle from the atrium, especially at night; the gift shop featuring handmade jewelry, toys, accessories and more - much of it by Northwest artists; the Collections Cafe menu, created with help from chef Jason Wilson of CRUSH and featuring dishes made with locally sourced ingredients and several local beers and wines!
MORE INFO: 206.753.4940; chihulygardenandglass.com