Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Blown Away - The Art of Dale Chihuly

I first saw American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly's art several years ago in Las Vegas.  I was wandering through the Bellagio Hotel (I was staying at a much less expensive hotel off the strip).  When I came to the lobby, I was stopped dead by the sight of what appeared to be an undersea world of glowing colour on the ceiling.  It was the glass sculpture Fiori Di Como, created by Dale Chihuly, comprised of 2,000 hand blown glass blossoms.  I wanted to lie on the floor, and stare at it for hours.  When I learned that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was hosting an exhibit of his work, the first major Chihuly show in Canada, it was worth a 7 hour train trip to see it.  The exhibit consists of 8 immersive environments, 4 of which were designed specifically for the museum. 

In front of the building that houses the exhibit is the Chihuly piece, The Sun, which is over 4 metres in diameter.  I was not able to get to the museum after dark when the sculpture is lit up.  If you scroll down to the Photos/Videos section of this page, you can watch a cool time lapse video of the sculpture being assembled.

The view from opposite the staircase that takes you into the Chihuly exhibit.  You are immediately plunged into a world where darkness and light create a fantastic world of breathtaking beauty.  The exhibit is not called "Utterly Breathtaking" for nothing.  Flowers from The Persian Colonnade flank you as you climb the stairs.

At the top of the stairs is the installation Turquoise Reeds, which consists of 199 spear-shaped "reeds" of glass rising from the trunks of old growth western red cedar, which were salvaged in Washington, near the Pacific Ocean.  To create the reeds, molten glass is blown from a mechanical lift in Chihuly's high-ceilinged studio, and gravity is allowed to form and shape the glass into the reed-like shapes. Even though they are made of glass, they are very strong and can be displayed inside or outside in a variety of environments.

 Information accompanying the exhibit states that the artist has always been preoccupied with colour throughout his career, and attributes this passion to memories of his mother's flower gardens and the sunsets of his childhood.  He began working on the Macchia series in 1981, and it allowed him to work with all 300 colours of glass produced by the German glass company, Kugler.  Chihuly was able to incorporate so many colours through the process of applying layers of colour onto the glass.

An example of the stunning array of colours used in the installation.  The glass bowls that comprise The Macchia Forest are a metre in height and width, and are mounted on steel poles.

The installation The Boats, is a room with two rowboats on reflective platforms, one filled with blown glass balls, the other with twisted, plant-like shapes.  Chihuly has used old boats filled with glass shapes, floating in bodies of water, in many of his installations world wide.  I remember reading that the spherical shapes in this installation are the most difficult shapes to create because of the large scale.

Fantastical tendrils made of glass fill the second boat

Glass Forest #6 is made of blown white glass, filled with argon gas and neon, which produces the shades of pink.  It is the only piece in the show that produces its own light.

One of my favourite installations in the show is Mille Fiori.  Chihuly began his Fiori series in 2003   ( Fiori is the Italian word for flower), inspired by his love of nature and flowers, and passion for all things Italian.  Clusters of the glass plant-like structures are displayed in groups to look like fantastical gardens and are called Mille Fiori, a play on the Italian word millefiori (one thousand flowers)

I was fascinated by these striped snake-like stalks

The installation incorporates Chihuly's favourite shapes - tentacles, spheres, flowers and reeds

As I entered the next room of the gallery, I was faced with this glowing glass structure, part of the Chandeliers and Towers installation.  You can tell the size of the tower against the people standing nearby.  The pieces in this room combine blown glass with steel armatures, and each weigh several hundred kilograms.

Detail of a blue hanging "chandelier" that resembled an ornate Stalactite.  Chihuly's pieces have an incredible energy about them and one expects that any minute the glass tentacles with begin to writhe.

If I won an obscene amount of money, I would have this piece installed in the foyer of my new house.  I love everything about it, and stood under it for a long time, trying to fix its beauty in my brain.

The last installation is the Persian Ceiling, one of Chihuly's most popular works. Brightly coloured, circular pieces of glass are layered above a transparent glass ceiling, and lit from above.  The room is small, and the glow from the coloured glass above created the sensation of stepping into a magical cave.  The room had padded mats on the floor, inviting viewers to lie on their backs to get a better view of the splendor above without having to strain your neck.

The kaleidoscope of colour overhead was awe-inspiring

Scattered throughout the installation were glass sea creatures, including this stingray.  It became a game to find them all.

One of the pieces had been broken, and the pieces had been left in the ceiling.  A mother and her three children were lying on the floor, looking up, and one of the children asked their mother why the museum would leave a broken piece in the installation.  Her answer was perfect:  "Maybe it's to remind us of the fragility of the glass."

The Chihuly Exhibit continues at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until October 20, 2013


  1. That is just amazing - thank you for walking us through the exhibit! I remember how gorgeous the Bellagio's ceiling was, and have seen shows on TV about this artist. Just stunning!

  2. Love Chihuly's glass! It photographs amazingly well too. I wonder what they actually left back in Seattle though since Montreal seems to have gotten many of the pieces from his eponymous museum there. Just saw them last March. Of course he does have lots and lots of these lovely things, doesn't he?

  3. Breathtaking. Thanks, Shelley.

  4. Stunning! I've seen quite a lot of Chihuly's work (Seattle, Tacoma, Las Vegas), but never with this kind of lighting. It's so beautiful and your photos are excellent!

  5. Amazing ... just wish I could get to see it in person. Just found your blog via Melanie and love it by the way!

  6. wouuaua, all that glass tentacles and flowers and spheres and sea creatures are just wonderful!!, and whimsical!!
    I'm absolutely enthusiastic about that Sun piece staying outside the museum, it's something I would love to watch!
    besos & artes

  7. oh my--I'm speechless!! So much beauty and...
    Wow shelly thanks for sharing this with us!!

  8. your photos are beautiful, I can't imagine how this must look in person.

  9. All I can say is WoW! So much beauty!

  10. Absolutely amazing...even via the photographs you've shared. I have only ever seen one Chiluly piece in person--a sort of glass Christmas tree in the Bill Clinton library in Little Rock.

  11. Absolutely sensational. Thanks for sharing. I like the self-lit pink ones. I've seen the work at the Bellagio but this is on another level.

  12. This is some exhibit! - I will have to see it during my vacation -



  13. I have never even heard of this artist, but oh my goodness, aren't these pieces stunning? So beautiful and organic-looking, such wonderful shapes and colours, and such a grand scale. I really love coloured glass. Thanks, Shelley! xxx

  14. these photos are just stunning, the artwork is amazing, so organic but also like left over bits from Alice In Wonderland, thanks for introducing me!

  15. You have outdone yourself, my dear. Your photography is top notch & your write-ups are terrific. Very entertaining! Merci beaucoup.
    Jean & Valerie

  16. Amazing collection of Blown Glass Sculptures that you have shared in this post. These Custom Made Glass Sculptures are very beautiful and useful for the decoration. I am thankful to you for sharing this article here.