Friday, July 01, 2005

Chihuly's Glass

An unexpected experience on a recent trip has left me excited and stimulated. I was in Colorado for a week to take care of my two grandsons, ages four and six. We went out every day, mostly to kid-friendly places: a nature center, Pioneer Museum, Children's Museum and the like. But I also wanted to visit the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center which was featuring an exhibit of glass work by Dale Chihuly.

I didn't recognize the artist's name, but when I saw his work, I realized I'd already seen a couple of his pieces in other places --- very large clusters of blown pieces hung as chandeliers. The exhibit at CSFAC also showcased several other series, created over a period of 30 years.

The boys and I had a serious talk before we entered the museum. We were going to use our museum manners: no shouting, no running, and NO TOUCHING. Kids nowadays are accustomed to interactive museums, which are great: but kids can also learn to see, think and feel without climbing, running, throwing and screaming. The six-year-old, who I'd thought would enjoy the experience the most, had determined ahead of time that he'd be bored. But a collection of big, bowl-like pieces touched him in spite of his resolution. The four-year-old responded most strongly to a gathering of large glass spheres in various colors, resting on a bed of clear, crushed glass and displayed in a long, dimly lighted space that receeded into the distance.

I don't like all of Chihuly's work. Some of his individual pieces are too ornate and derivitive. But he has certainly revolutionized the art of glass blowing, primarily by the scale of his work --- the pieces are BIG --- and by the way they're installed as architectural elements and landscapes. He is a big man who works in a big way with collaborators, and produces a huge number of pieces. His most sucessful pieces are not single, precious objects, but large conglomerations of many pieces. In spite of the fragile medium, the work is stong, spontaneous, and prolific. One has the feling that if a few small elements get broken, it's not a big problem. There are plenty more. The energy one feels when looking at the work is a major part of the attraction.

Chihuly also makes paintings. They're done on very large pieces of heavy watercolor paper (maybe 3' x 4') and the acrylic paint is applied with sponges and squirt bottles. It probably takes less than five minutes to create one painting. There are must be many duds, but the ones exhibited were extremely colorful, spontaneous and energetic. The artist conducts workshops for kids and adults where everyone is squirting and splashing. I'm stimulated to try it at home this summer when the grandsons are here. We'll need to keep them apart to minimize the temptation to squirt each other rather than the paper.

The boys were OK in the museum, although we didn't linger as long as I might have had I been alone. Maybe knowing that I had to absorb as much as possible as quickly as possible made the experience more intense. I'll see more of Chihuly's work next fall when we're in England and visit his installation at Kew Garden.

The boys were most interested in the little red metal badges we were given when we paid the admission. To their delight, we found a few extras on our way back to the car where people had dropped them in the parking lot.

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