Dale Chihuly Is Back Bigger Than Ever at the New York Botanical Garden
The artist makes his triumphant return to New York.
Eleven years after Dale Chihuly’s landmark 2006 exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), his first in the city, the Seattle-based artist returns to the Bronx this week, with an explosion of light and color that takes over the garden’s historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, spilling over into its expansive grounds.
The show, simply titled “CHIHULY,” has been three years in the making, and offers an overview, of sorts, of the artist’s career, featuring early works as well as Chihuly’s newest creations. On view are more than 20 installations, as well as a display of the artist’s drawings at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery.
It’s a greatly expanded show from Chihuly’s first Bronx outing, an exhibition that NYBG president Gregory Long called “the beginning of the garden’s art program as it exists today” speaking at a preview luncheon earlier this year. The success of the exhibition inspired the institution to expand its offerings, envisioning spaces like the library as art venues for the first time.
In the years since, the garden has hosted such blockbuster exhibitions as its recreation of Claude Monet and Frida Kahlo’s gardens, capitalizing on the nature’s proven ability to inspire artists.
The institution’s first Chihuly show was also an important milestone for the artist, as one of his early botanical garden exhibitions. In an email to artnet News, the artist expressed his excitement over returning to the Bronx, noting that “the landscape has grown and changed and we were able to work in areas that were not available to us in 2006,” such as the Native Plant Garden, which opened in 2013.
Only one work is making a repeat appearance from the 2006 show: the Blue Herons, bird-like forms which have moved from the outdoor Tropical Pool to a space within the conservatory, which was restored to its current beauty in 1978. At the entrance to the exhibition, there’s a photo of Chihuly in front of the building in its ruined state, its ceiling full of broken glass panes.
Today, the conservatory is a sparkling jewel, and a fitting setting for Chihuly’s shimmering sculptures. “We love the combination of Dale’s glass and our glass,” said Todd Forrest, the NYBG’s vice president for horticulture and living collections, at the luncheon. “The combination of art and nature that exemplifies Dale Chihuly’s art is something that is very close to our hearts at the New York Botanical Garden.”
The garden has also paid close attention to the interplay between the glass and the plant life, replanting the conservatory to best complement Chihuly’s work. “The flowers are very subtle,” said Karen Daubman, the garden’s associate vice president for exhibitions. “It’s not the flashiness we normally see in our spring shows. We let the glass shine.”
“Many of my forms are inspired by nature,” said Chihuly of the appeal of showing his work in botanical settings. “Putting them into gardens feels right to me. I love the idea that people may ask themselves ‘is it man made or is it natural?'” In the conservatory’s final hallway, pointed green spears of glass have been paired with near-identical-looking plants, a particularly successful juxtaposition.
The new show also proves that Chihuly is still experimenting, revisiting one of his earliest works, a 1975 installation at Artpark in Upstate New York that looked almost nothing like his better-known later work. He described the series sheets of frosted glass as “flat colored panels that… capture the light and change with the changing seasons.” Propped-up panes sit in one of the conservatory pools, while two large pieces seem to float above the Native Plant Garden.
Whatever your opinion of the artistic merit of Chihuly’s colorful creations, produced on a near-industrial scale by his Seattle art factory/workshop, there is no denying his virtuosity in his medium and his inventiveness, from his blown glass baskets, inspired by Native American basketmaking, to the jagged edged of Blue Polyvitro Crystals, cast from shards of broken automotive glass and scaled-up to monumental size.
In a press tour of the exhibition, Britt Cornett, the Chihuly Studio head of exhibitions, spoke of the artist’s work with the famed glass factories of Murano, in Venice—he first worked with Venini back in 1968—and a Finnish glass facility that has the world’s largest annealing ovens, allowing him to produce ever larger and more impressive works.
There, he can also work in colors created from rare minerals that are illegal to import in the US, expanding his palette to a whole new range of hues. “It’s all based in his desire to transmit color and light,” said Cornett.
As always, the artist’s work is designed to be experienced not only during the day, but after dark, when they will be illuminated, some from within, like Chihuly’s tangled sculpture Neon 206. Forrest described the exhibition as “luminous during the day and magical at night in a way that plants can’t be.”
In addition a three-night summer concert series featuring jazz musicians, the garden will stay open late for 39 nights during the exhibition run, with musical performances and festive themed cocktails available for purchase.
In both its scale and ambition, showing the evolution of Chihuly’s work over the years, “CHIHULY” is an massive undertaking. But though you might think that driving eight 15-foot-long tractor trailers full of fragile glass sculptures across the country from Seattle to New York would be a daunting task, at this point in his career, Chihuly is unfazed.
“Everything went smoothly,” he told us. “We have done a lot of challenging projects around the world.”
“CHIHULY” is on view at the New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx, New York, April 22–October 29, 2017. “CHIHULY Nights” will take place 6:30–10:30 p.m. on Saturdays, April 29–June 24; Thursdays, July–August; and Thursdays–Saturdays; September–October.
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