Glass loves light and light loves glass. The globally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly discovered that the “magic is in the light” in 1968 when during his studies of artistic glass design he received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Venice at the Venini glass factory. There he was able to work with some of the finest glass-makers in the world to observe how to create a team approach to blowing glass. That skill has been vital to his glass designs up to this day.
History was made when Dale Chihuly co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State (1971) and developed it into an international glass center. Ever since he has been in the forefront of the movement to establish glass design as a fine art. At 75 and at the top of his game, he has received numerous awards, honorary doctorates, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Chihuly pieces may be found in over 200 museum collections around the world. Exhibitions have included his series and designs from the late 1960s to the present. There are four Chihuly exhibitions slated for this year alone: the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) Chihuly Exhibition from April 22 through October 29, 2017, and exhibitions in California, Nebraska, Arkansas.
Whenever I go to the NYBG for a press visit, Karen Daubmann, Associate Vice President of Exhibitions and Public Engagement, usually chats up the next show. Her eyes sparkled when she mentioned that the Garden was finalizing plans for the Chihuly Exhibit opening in the spring.
So I was in a pleasant state of anticipation attending the NYBG press preview luncheon at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan on January 12, 2017 to learn more about why Karen was beaming with enthusiasm about the upcoming Chihuly Experience at the Garden.
During the informative luncheon, I and others were introduced to Dale Chihuly via video in his Seattle studio. He happily discussed and illustrated examples of how he and his team are preparing for his first major garden exhibition in New York since 2006, when he first presented his amazing works at the NYBG.
At the luncheon I was able to meet Leslie Jackson Chihuly, President and CEO of Chihuly Studios, and Britt Cornett, head of exhibitions there. From them I learned more about why Karen was beaming with enthusiasm. The show is going to be breathtaking.
Dale Chihuly has designed hand-blown glass sculptures specifically for this NYBG exhibit. They will be arranged to illuminate both the works and the Garden’s landscape and architecture. The Native Plant Garden’s water settings and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory Courtyard’s Tropical Pool will be the locations for dramatic installations inspired by Chihuly’s early explorations of light, glass and the environment.
The exhibit will showcase approximately 20 monumental new installations. In addition, drawings and early works revealing the evolution of Chihuly’s artistic process will be displayed in the LuEsther T. Mertz Building.
There will be two new works that draw inspiration from Chihuly’s 1975 Artpark installation, when he and 40 artists were invited to create temporary outdoor works in Lewiston, New York (near Niagara Falls). Dale Chihuly created hand-blown sheets of stained glass which contrasted with the surrounding environment and served as a doorway to new a perception of physical expressions of light through color.
The exhibition will feature a few of his striking neon sculptures. As professor at Rhode Island School of Design in the 1970s, Chihuly innovated applications of neon in his early work, and continued developing works in neon through later decades with “Tumbleweed,” and the “Neon Tower” at the 2006 NYBG Chihuly presentation.
Building on these conceptualizations in glass, he has dramatized a new multicolor neon sculpture to be presented in the Conservatory Courtyard. The light reflecting on the neon and the neon beaming its light in the evening will be beautiful against the backdrop of the New York Botanical Garden structures and twilight shadows.
One transcendent and delicate Chihuly creation that I look forward to seeing pays homage to the 2006 exhibition. His “Blue Herons” sculptures originally were placed in the Haupt Conservatory Courtyard’s Tropical Pool. This work of fine art will be displayed within the Conservatory. I can’t wait. It is gorgeous.
It took three years for the NYBG 2017 Chihuly Experience to be organized and planned, works to be decided upon and selected, and new works to be conceptualized, created and finished. Then their configurations in the Garden settings had to be imagined and decided upon before the timeline for shipping the huge sculptures by truck was finalized. After the shipping and arrival comes careful assembling and arrangement in the various Garden sites.
Chihuly’s creations will be found throughout NYBG’s 250-acre National Historic Landmark environs. Sites include the Lillian and Amy Goldman Fountain of Life, the Leon Levy Visitor Center, and the Arthur and Janet Ross Conifer Arboretum.
These are one-of-a-kind installations situated with design consideration in the singular environment of the NYBG. Even their placement will elucidate their organic art as it connects to the NYBG’s natural artistry in a melding of man-made art and nature’s art.
Gregory Long, Chief Executive Officer, and William C. Steere Sr., President of NYBG, delivered excited opening remarks. They and the other Garden officials who spoke have worked diligently to magnify the NYBG’s mission to incorporate art and the fine arts and to establish a unique and unforgettable dynamic for Garden programming.
Long said, “Our historic landscape is an open-air museum, providing a thrilling opportunity for our visitors to see the spectacular glass sculptures, especially when they will be lit at night. The exhibition will be a more holistic look at the legacy of Chihuly the artist.” Long thanked the sponsors and supporters who made the experience possible for new audiences as well as lifelong fans and members of the Garden who appreciated the awesome Chihuly show in 2006.
Leslie Jackson Chihuly, President and CEO of Chihuly Studios, expressed hers and Dale’s excitement to return to the Garden in April. “Dale began his journey as an artist more than a half century ago, and he continues to push boundaries and innovate in a variety of media, including paint, sculpture, polyvitro, glass, and neon. He and our team have prepared for this exhibition with the goal of surprising and delighting audiences with exciting new works and installations created specifically for NYBG.”
I look forward to visiting the Chihuly Experience a number of times during the exhibition to see the changing of the light bouncing off the brilliant colors of the sculptures as the sun waxes after the spring equinox and the summer solstice, then wanes following the fall equinox, to the closing of the show on October 29. Chihuly’s fanciful and exceptional creations will be a stirring counterpart to the floral blooms of spring and summer and a florid harbinger of winter coinciding with the vibrance of fall.
Some programming highlights are as follows.
Opening weekend celebrations April 22-23
Summer Solstice Celebration June 17
39 Chihuly Nights
Lit up at night, the sculptures promise to be a singular, sterling experience integrating color, form, and light amidst the haunting, shadowy landscape of NYBG vistas. Evenings include live music and performance art.
Additional Garden programming includes regularly scheduled tours, films, and poetry walks every Saturday and Sunday during the exhibition’s run from April 22 through October 29, 2017. Special adult and family programming will highlight the opening and closing weekends. For a full listing visit the NYBG’s Chihuly exhibit webpage.