|Purple glass spikes stand next to tree trunk in Chihuly Garden|
Chihuly’s glass pieces have been so universally displayed all over the world it’s almost impossible not to come across them if you travel. They’re so ubiquitous, I almost started to take them for granted - until I visited Chihuly Garden and Glass, which opened in the shadow of the Space Needle in Seattle on May 21st.
Billed as the most comprehensive exhibition of the Washington-based artist’s work ever assembled, the Chihuly experience takes place indoors in eight separate galleries and a 40-foot tall Glasshouse and outdoors in a lush garden, where glass competes with and compliments the trees, shrubs and flowers, all native to the West Coast. On a tour of the galleries with exhibitions coordinator, Hillary Lee, I learned that the collection represents 50 years of Chihuly’s art and is shown progressively, one stage influencing the next. As we walked from gallery to gallery, all purposely dimly lit except for the brilliantly illuminated glass, I discovered that each room dazzles in its own way, starting with the Glass Forest in Gallery One, a breathtaking curtain raiser made up of his early thin, wispy and undulating glass stems and pods.
Majestic in its sheer size and burst of color, the 15-foot tall Sea Life Tower in Gallery Three is made up of over 1,000 individual glass pieces. On the walls, charcoal sketches of individual pieces show the works in their conceptual state.
Equally impressive is the Persian Ceiling in Gallery Four, where 1,375 glass pieces inspired by Middle East glass from the 12th to 14th centuries, are a reflection of the artist’s Persian series, begun in 1986.
"Putti [chubby, naked child-angels} are the only figurative pieces in the installation, and this is the only room painted white in order to have the light play on the colored pieces," said Lee. "The walls in the other galleries are charcoal gray."
The largest gallery, Mille Fiori, or a thousand flowers, is a sea of color with green grass clusters, red spears and yellow and gold "Persians, while the Float Boat Gallery is a carnival 90 globes that fill a canoe.
"Chihuly got the idea for putting glass pieces in a boat while preparing for a show in Venice," Lee said. "He put the pieces in the river, then had children in a boat collect them. While watching them return, he got the idea for the installation."
For some, the showstopper experience comes in the Glasshouse where a 100-foot long glass sculpture, one of Chihuly’s largest suspended sculptures, is a riot of reds, oranges, yellows and ambers with 1,340 pieces held together on five separate steel arms.
My personal favorite spot was the one and a half acre garden outside, where the glass works are installed to look like they grew upwards from the ground just like the varied horticultural plantings. While some oohed and aahed at the 31-foot tall Citron Icecycle Tower, I took special pleasure in long, violet glass spikes that surrounded a massive section of a fallen log from Olympia National Forest complete with dark red, almost black, glass seal pups.
The Center offers a complimentary audio tour in which visitors can listen to Chihuly and others talk about what inspired his art and the process with which it was created. Spotlight Talks which give greater depth into the galleries, garden and Glasshouse are offered every half hour.
Last summer, visitors could return at 8 p.m. the evening of their visit to see the garden lit at night by nearly 200 lights plus another 180 in the Glasshouse. The evening experience is always available but not always with the reentry option.
If You’re GoingFor more information, phone 206-753-4940 or www.chihulygardenandglass.com.
For a Place to Dine, the Collections Café, 3405 Harrison St. in Seattle, is an integral part of the Chihuly Garden and Glass and takes its name from the array of items on display from Dale Chihuly’s personal collections.
The exhibits start with a series of blown up post cards of glass conservatories near the entrance (the one of the Crystal Palace in London are said to be Chihuly’s favorite) to an amazing collection of 82 accordions that dangle from the ceiling to a wall of old plastic radios to the collections under each glass topped table (mine was stocked with vintage cameras from the 1950s).
Using locally-sourced Northwest ingredients, Chefs Jeff Maxfield and Ivan Szilak serve up a cuisine that’s just as interesting as the ambiance. Some of my favorites include the watermelon salad, fresh pomegranate-basil lemonade, pepper-crusted ahi tuna sliders, grilled wild salmon and the lamb tagliatelle. Phone 206-753-4935.