Glasswork possesses a fine reputation as a decorative art. Only last year, Musee Maillol in Paris was dedicating an exhibition to the famous venetian glassworks of Venice, particularly those of Murano. The appeal of these delicate glass ornaments blown into different shapes, marbled and coloured brighly could almost appear to us as candied rock – indeed they sometimes take this form as well, as small fragile wrapped sweets.
Everything is created in these Venetian industries on every scale – fron the smaller trinkets popular with tourists…to greater pieces, notably chandeliers, that still have their places within great stately homes and private collections. Sadly, this industry is waning due to a very traditional craftsmanship versus a decrease in demand.
Yet the attraction to beautifully crafted glassworks is universal, and contemporary art, with its diversity of mediums, could hardly stay away from it.
Yet whereas some artists certainly use glass within their work, Dale Chihuly’s career centers entirely around it…and it is hardly surprising that after studying at the Rhode Art School of Design he continued this education within a Venetian glass-blowing factory, in the seventies. Since then, he has been working within this craft while promoting it to the ranks of contemporary art, with the co-foundation of the Pilchuck Glass School. He also started the International Studio Glass Movement in the 1960s with the same intentions. After a large number of successful exhibitions, including the V&A in 2001 and the Tower of David museum in 1999, this is Chihuly’s second exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery.
Dale Chihuly has mentioned beforehand that he was obsessed with colour and never saw one that he did not like; facing the effusion of them as I enter the gallery, I will not contradict him on that point. The effect is the same as wandering amindst a coral reef refurbished into an elegant hotel.
Dale Chihuly’s bright colours and extravagant forms could yield a problem when such a large quantity of them are assembled in a single exhibition: an over-saturated, cluttered effect. Even a single work such as his V&A chandelier can fill up a space, so could a solo exhibition create an overload of colour? Thankfully, here, a balance is acheived between space and sculptures. Their rococo-like nature has been complemented by a minimalist and airy installation space. The works alternate between the larger chandeliers, furniture (such as a very Art Deco dinner table) and smaller glass sculptures.
These are complemented by Chihuly’s paintings, vibrant two dimensional counterparts to his glassworks. The lighting showcased the glass beautifully, against completely white walls. In fact, looking back, I do wonder how the exhibition would have looked like with some rooms in darker tones and different light. But in a way, the subtleties of the glassworks and paintings already create those changes.
Here, Art Deco aesthetics seem to mingle with references to organic underwater life, with perhaps passing references to Georgia O’ Keefe’s flowers, in the delicate folds of the glass works that appear at times soft and malleable, at others weightless. His interest for the botanic is furthermore emphasized by the titles of his work that always allude to a plant life and nature. However this interest never becomes too documentary or attempts to imitate its sources of inspiration too closely. Rather, Chihuly channels his interest in the bizarre and beautiful forms that nature creates and uses them to create objects that confuse our senses in their changes in form and substance…making them truly objects “beyond the object.” This sense of the bizarre and the irregular inspired by the natural is not so far from the concerns of the baroque…a style that has been vehiculated by Murano glass works. And this unique perception is formed by an entire group of glass-blowers led by Chihuly to acheive the final, stunning result. Between artistic practice and traditional craftsmanship, baroque and the contemporary, the line is sometimes thin…and as fragile as glass.
Dale Chihuly: Beyond the Object at Halcyon Gallery until the 5th of April.