Glass Master Dale Chihuly in Hot Water Over Statements About His ‘Persian’ Art

At least he didn't call Iranians "dinosaurs."

Dale Chihuly with his work Sunin London's Berkeley Square, in 2014. Photo Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Halcyon Gallery.
Dale Chihuly with his work Sun in London's Berkeley Square, in 2014. Photo Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Halcyon Gallery.

A 1999 work by glass artist Dale Chihuly is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Until recently, the wall text for Persian Ceiling offered the artist’s explanation of the title:

I just liked the name ‘Persian.’ It conjured up the Near East, Byzantine, Far East, Venice—all the history, trades, smells and senses. It was an exotic name to me, so I just called them Persians.

The museum has removed the label in question, according to the Toronto Star, which quotes a statement from the institution: “Once the exhibition installation was complete, and the text was seen in context, it became clear that it did not reflect the voice of the museum, nor did it reflect the experience of the work.”

The museum told the paper that the description “was provided as part of the exhibition text” by the organizers of the show, whom representatives of the museum declined to name to artnet News; the museum also declined to answer any questions.

“Ethically, it’s just not right” to label the works that way, Mehrdad Ariannejad, CEO of Toronto’s biennial Tirgan festival of Iranian culture, told the Star. “If you can take a word like that to mean whatever you want, you’re going to create confusion. If you do that, how are we going to create an understanding, and a way to talk to each other?”

While the museum has removed the offending wall label, the explanation of the name remains on the artist’s website.

“The description provided by the Studio of the Persians series has been the description used by Chihuly Studio as reference to the series for more than fifteen years,” said the studio in a statement emailed to artnet News. “The copy reveals Dale Chihuly’s inspiration for the series. No other reference in the descriptive copy is indicative or implied.  At the recommendation of the Royal Ontario Museum the didactic copy for the Persian Ceiling was changed.”

Chihuly, who lives in Seattle, is represented in the collections of major institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in Washington, DC. He’s been exhibiting his colorful sculptures since the 1960s, and, according to the artnet Price Database, his works have sold for as much as $200,000, the price fetched for Important Chandelier (2004) at Rago Arts and Auction Center, in Lambertville, New Jersey, in 2015.

“Chihuly” is open at the Royal Ontario Museum through January 2, 2017.


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