The eight galleries and three Drawing Walls of the Exhibition Hall offer a comprehensive collection of Dale Chihuly’s significant series of work. The artworks demonstrate how he pushed the boundaries of glass as an art medium in concept, execution and presentation.
One of his first large-scale installations, done in collaboration with James Carpenter, was originally exhibited in 1971 at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, now the Museum of Arts and Design, New York. The Glass Forest elements are created by simultaneously blowing and pouring molten glass from the top of a stepladder to the floor below, where the deflated bubble solidifies. The glass stalks or stems are arranged in an enclosed space and illuminated with electrically charged neon and argon.
Presenting some of Chihuly’s early experiments with glass, this room features a Tabac Baskets table, wooden shelves with Baskets, Cylinders and Soft Cylinders along with Edward S. Curtis photogravures, Northwest Coast Indian baskets and American Indian trade blankets.
Throughout these artworks, Chihuly interprets various elements of life in the water. A Tower and vessels with sculpted sea life forms such as starfish, octopus, conch shells, sea anemones, urchins and manta rays are presented along with several Sealife Drawings.
Chihuly began the Persians series in 1986 while experimenting with new forms. Originally, he displayed Persians in pedestal compositions, often with smaller shapes nested in larger pieces. Later, working with an architectural framework, he mounts larger forms to walls and suspends them as overhead compositions. The first Persian Ceiling was presented in his 1992 exhibition at the opening of the downtown Seattle Art Museum.
With the Mille Fiori – Italian for “a thousand flowers,” – Chihuly assembles gardens of glass that include many of his series of works. He exhibited the first Mille Fiori in his hometown in 2003 at the Tacoma Art Museum. The artist’s association with gardens is strongly autobiographical and references his mother’s passion for gardening.
Ikebana and Float Boat
Chihuly first filled boats with glass in 1995 as part of the Chihuly Over Venice project. After several days of glassblowing in Finland, Chihuly and the team made temporary installations along the Nuutajoki, the river nearby. He experimented with tossing glass forms into the river to see how the colored pieces would interact with water and light. As the glass floated away, local teenagers gathered them in small rowboats, and Chihuly considered a new type of installation. Chihuly has a longtime interest in wooden boats, and when the team found an old wooden rowboat, he filled it with glass parts he made in the Nuutajärvi factory. He has continued to develop the idea since. The gallery also includes Burned Drawings.
This gallery presents several Chandeliers and a Tower. Chihuly first showed a Chandelier in 1992 during his exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. That show marked the moment when he started to work with this form in architectural settings. Ranging from three to 30 feet in length and made up of as many as 1,000 parts, Chandeliers are three-dimensional complex installations; the armature and various colored elements deliver a unified striking composition. In the years that followed, he continued to experiment with the form, most notably in the 1995–96 project, Chihuly Over Venice, where he pushed scale and placement.
Chihuly began the Macchia series in 1981 with the desire to use all 300 colors available to him in the hotshop, and named it such after asking his friend Italo Scanga the word for “spot” in Italian. Each work is speckled with color, which comes from rolling the molten glass in small shards of colored glass during the blowing process. Chihuly separated the interior and exterior colors by adding a white layer in between — a “cloud” — and as he mastered the technical complexities, pushed the scale up to four feet in diameter.
After losing sight in his left eye and dislocating his shoulder, Chihuly relinquished the gaffer position and began drawing as a way to communicate his vision and designs. Chihuly’s first Drawing Wall was presented to the public in 1992 at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
Chihuly has explained, “Drawing really helps me to think about things. I’m able to draw and work with a lot of color and that inspires me.” Chihuly draws with unconventional materials—liquid pigment squeezed from plastic bottles can suggest the ways that different colors of molten glass merge and mingle.
“You can more directly sense my energy in my drawings than in any other way. And from the very beginning, the drawings were done, as my glass is done, very quickly, very fast.”