By Shani R. Friedman
Legendary artist Dale Chihuly, known for his exceptional craftsmanship as a glassblower and glass sculptor, returned to New York for CHIHULY, his first major garden exhibition in over a decade. Just before the show closed, I made it to the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) for the final weekend at the end of October. On display were more than two dozen installations and early creations that dated back to the 1970s.
While pursuing an interior design degree in his native Washington, Chihuly worked with glass in his classes and blew his first glass bubble in his basement. He followed this early experimentation by studying glassblowing in the mid-60s at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first such program in the country.
His keen eye can be attributed in part to his late mother Viola Magnuson Chihuly, whose gardening prowess continues to inspire her son, as seen in such pieces as the Macchia Forest. According to the program notes, for the forest he wanted to use all 300 colours of glass in his shop.
During the course of the exhibit, which traversed the NYBG’s lush grounds, the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, visitors witnessed Chihuly’s growth as an artist and the varied forms he has explored over the decades. There were selections from his Baskets series that he began in the 1970s, the Seaforms series in the 1980s, his incorporation of experimental plastics that he dubbed Polyvitro (fun fact – Blue Polyvitro Crystals was cast from shards of broken automotive glass and Chihuly used a rotocasting process), and the Chandeliers he blew as part of the Chihuly Over Venice project in 1995 and 1996. Particularly popular and intricate works on display were Sapphire Star, comprised of 500 pieces of glass, and Red Reeds on Logs, mixing art and nature as it featured logs collected straight from the ground. Many installations were specially illuminated for “Chihuly Nights,” adding an extra dimension to the artist’s brilliant creations.
Although it was only a small sampling of his vast output, it was a spectacular, unforgettable showcase in a perfect setting.