Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass
In the past 40 years, the world has gone from pop art painting to a revolution in computers. But Dale Chihuly has remained exactly the same, building a rock-solid international legacy on one of the most timeless and fragile of all materials.
Chihuly blows glass. Heck, he’s the Walt Disney of blowing glass. Though actually, the 69-year-old artist doesn’t really do the blowing himself anymore. Rather, he commands an army of glass-puffing professionals and directs them in realizing his visions of monolithic, impossible-looking sculptures. These extremely breakable pieces have adorned everything from Vegas casino lobbies to opulent homes along the Grand Canal in Venice.
But Chihuly isn’t just some dude from Tacoma, Washington making a fortune off of vacationing gamblers and European socialites. He’s a true artist, and his latest exhibit at the MFA, "Through the Looking Glass," is a mind-melting walk through a glass Candyland that you won’t soon forget.
The man himself cuts a dark but whimsical figure, with wild hedgehog hair, paint-splattered sneakers and an iconic eye patch (a souvenir from a car accident in 1976). For someone whose name hangs outside the MFA on a banner twice the size of Justin Bieber’s tour bus, he speaks modestly about his striking creations. On a recent tour of “Looking Glass,” Chihuly insisted that there is no master scheme to the intricate way he arranges his objects: “It’s done very quickly. There’s no math involved.”
The exhibit is laid out through a series of rooms in the MFA’s Gund Gallery. Upon entering, the first thing you do is walk directly under “Scarlet Icicle Chandelier,” a very large, spiky orb swinging high overhead. It looks like an artifact from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. It’s something of an act of faith, passing beneath an object of such impaling potential to enter Chihuly’s realm.
Then you’ll come upon “Ikebana Boat,” which is literally a boatload of glass. Chihuly explains that the piece is a tribute to an afternoon he spent in Finland engaged in a singular game of fetch: he tossed his glass creations into a pond for kicks, and they were retrieved by local kids in rowboats.
The head shop feeling continues as you enter “Mille Fiori,” a vast psychedelic jungle of eye-popping red, orange, yellow, lavender, green and blue sprouts, spheres and ribbon-like plant life made of glass. You’d be forgiven for feeling like you’ve walked into the middle of a scene from Avatar. Chihuly even says that he feels “like a film director” putting together these massive creations.
One of the most impressive exhibits features six dramatic chandeliers hung at varying heights. There’s one called “Iris Yellow Frog Foot Chandelier” that has a cluster of the titular amphibian appendages reaching out in all directions. Another, “Onyx and Caramel Chandelier,” looks like a spoonful of Pad Thai suspended in midair.
“Neodymium Reeds” is made up of birch logs with purplish spears rising out of them like weird lichen, or candles dripping in reverse. To demonstrate how they’re suspended, Chihuly stepped up to one of the reeds and lifts it, revealing a steel rod mounted beneath.
This reaching out and handling of the glassware is an act reserved for the artist himself; but it’s something that will be on the minds of visitors of all ages. It all looks good enough to eat (and some of the items look like they’d make really excellent bongs)—but resist the urge to touch. Think of it as a tour through Willy Wonka’s factory; no one wants to wind up like Augustus Gloop.
"Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass" runs from Apr. 10–Aug. 7 at the Museum of Fine Arts