Dale Chihuly Sculptures

Dale Chihuly Reviews

Dale Chihuly, the guru of glass
Organic forms sprout about town

By CATHERINE FOX | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/13/04
Dale Chihuly is to glass what Frank Gehry is to architecture.

Both stand at the pinnacle of their professions. Both work with signature vocabularies. Both embrace technical innovation. Like Gehry's Bilbao museum and Los Angeles concert hall, Chihuly's sculptures are unabashedly beautiful. Cities are clamoring for a Gehry building of their own; individuals covet a Chihuly.

For the next five months at least, Atlanta will have its Chihuly, and then some: a spectacular array at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and a hefty show at Lowe Gallery. (You also can see Chihuly in the context of his teacher Harvey Littleton and some of his disciples in "The White House Collection of American Crafts," which just opened at the Carter Center. But more about that at a later date.)

You might want to visit Lowe first. The exhibition offers a sampling of the many series Chihuly has conceived over the years and continues to work with. Pieces from these series are in the garden as well, but here you can examine them close up and see them in relation to one another.

The result is a good sense of the character of Chihuly's work. For instance, his ruffly-edged "Sea Forms," which evoke such things as clamshells and lilypads, suggest that nature is a major source of inspiration. Their presentation as nested forms exemplifies his preference for ensembles.

And you can't miss his glorious color. The gallery is a bliss-inducing rainbow coalition fiery orange, red and yellow candy stripes, soothing blue, milky pink, spring green. Chihuly never met a hue he didn't like, and he seems determined to use all 300 available to him in his medium. He extends their range by deploying colors at various levels of transparency and opacity.

The main gallery is devoted to the newest series, "Mille Fiori." Working in conservatories inspired these abstracted tendrils, stalks and blooms. The dramatic, multipart assemblage in the center reflects his ever more expansive scale.

Chihuly is a giant in his field. Still, some pieces work better than others. His exuberant imagination is his strongest suit; the objects that dwell in the realm of the evocative and the fantastic are the most beguiling. When he edges closer to realism (like the flower-in-a-vase motif of the "Ikebana" series and some of the "Mille Fiori" objects, the wonder fades. And the paintings on view, though ebullient, are not even close to the level of the glass.

On to the garden.

Chihuly is an old hand at site-specific installations and has worked in public spaces all over the world. It should be no surprise, then, how well he and his crew have adapted his glass to both the monumental and intimate spaces of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The extravagant, 19-foot-tall tower in the Howell Fountain 650 pieces of yellow, red and citron corkscrewing glass punctuates the vista across the great lawn and the axis of the walkway from the administration building. The frenzy of color sprouting out of the old granite planters behind the conservatory looks terrific against the skyline, especially at night. The similarly dense and undulant glass tubes that seem to explode in the parterre fountain make a splendid counterpoint to that garden's crisp geometry.

Using tricks learned at Chicago's Garfield Park, his first conservatory project, Chihuly alternates startling contrasts blue and purple spikes against the cacti in the Desert House with more subtle surprises, like the way a ropy piece mimics thick vines in the Fuqua Conservatory. In the Fuqua Orchid Center, the "Sea Forms" floating in a pond look like exotic specimens in their own right.

The project, which has introduced some shapes I've never seen, offers both whimsy and a hint of menace. The green spiky pieces crowning the portal to the Japanese Garden exemplify the former. The bulbous red stalks in the tropical garden suggest sci-fi alien intruders.

The installation falters a bit in places where the pieces are less integrated into the garden. The "Macchia" display outside the Orchid House, for example, is too much like a standard exhibition. Also, the opaque plastic balls in the tropical garden, which look like an imminent New Year's balloon drop, offer none of the allure or magic of glass.

These are quibbles. "Chihuly in the Garden" is a great experience, day and night. (You must do both to get the full effect.) You will not only enjoy the art, but you will see the garden in a new way.

Art Dale Chihuly

Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly in front of his exuberant, 650-piece corkscrewing tower in the botanical garden's Howell Fountain.
photo: Nick Arroyo/AJC

"Dale Chihuly"

Though June 30. $3,000-$950,000. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturdays. Lowe Gallery, 75 Bennett St., A-2. 404-352-8114.

"Chihuly in the Garden"

Through September: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays; until 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays and Monday holidays. In October: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays; until 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays and Monday holidays. Open evenings the last Wednesday of each month. $12 adults; $9 students and seniors; free under age 3. Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave. 404-876-5859. No parking (other than for disabled drivers) at the garden on weekends. Park at Colony Square; shuttle buses depart every five minutes. Expect crowds.

The verdict:
Only a curmudgeon wouldn't enjoy this work.

Dale Chihuly Exhibition
Hot Lava Basket Set
photo: Scott M. Leen
Exhibit Dale Chihuly
dale chihuly exhibition catalogue

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