10 July 2010

Dale Chihuly sets up shop down the street

In 2004, glass artist Dale Chihuly brought a huge exhibition to St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts. Unlike most of the visiting exhibits in that museum, Chihuly's work wasn't contained in a single gallery. Instead, his work was integrated into the rest of the museum and seeing his fantastical glass work in the context of other art forms allowed me to see it as art for the first time.

On its own, blown glass as art never spoke to me before. I found the graceful shapes and bright colors to be distracting, I couldn't see the artist through the work. It didn't dampen my appreciation for it as a beautiful thing, but I saw it differently than I do a compelling painting or sculpture. However, seeing a pile of Chihuly's orange glass sitting next to a Georgia O'Keefe poppy brought the whole endeavor into sharp focus for me.

Chihuly's work is studied and it does fit into the long, glorious narrative of art history. Chihuly's work above pays respectful homage to the Georgia O'Keefe behind it, but it lacks the morbid and menacing core of the O'Keefe painting. Chihuly is pure exuberance at this point.

A lot of art critics tend to keep his work at arms length, probably because blown glass is such an accessible medium. Blown glass can be beauty for beauty's sake and it's that same beauty for beauty's sake that endears his work to so many non-art patrons. Say what you will, but the man is everywhere and it's due to his efforts that American art glass is an art form reborn. Chuck Boux (a local glass artist whose work I own) and every other working glass artist out there owes their career viability to Dale Chihuly.

So it's with a great deal of fanfare that St. Petersburg's Morean Art Center is opening the Dale Chihuly collection this weekend. The Dale Chihuly collection is the world's only permanently housed Dale Chihuly collection, it's a single artist museum for all intents and purposes. Part of the collection is a working Chihuly glass studio and hot shop. At the hot shop, regular people can see fine art glass being made before their eyes and people who want a bit more intense experience can take a glass blowing class.

The new Chihuly Collection is housed in a space designed by architect Alberto Alfonso and as luck would have it, I've been invited to the press preview later today. I'll meet the architect and get a guided tour of the collection led by Chihuly himself. He'll have a Q&A after the tour and if I think of something pithy I'll ask it.

I'm looking forward to this preview of the latest addition to the art scene here in the 'burg. I'm fortunate to live in a small city of 250,000 people and to be surrounded by such an embarrassment of cultural riches. Dale Chihuly has a new museum five blocks down the street from me. How many people can say that?

If you're local to me or if you find yourself on the coast of west Florida, check out the Morean Arts Center's Chihuly Collection.


  1. I might be wrong, but I think some of his work may just be in the Prado restaurant in Balboa Park. Someone once told me they were done by "some artist" but I never found out who. It sure looks like the same stuff and I loved it the first moment I laid eyes on it - it's so alive and happy and is like crack for the eyes. At least for me, anyway. I really get off on masses of bright shiny color in pretty shapes. I get the same kick out of finding shiny beetles. I can't even describe the jolt but it's better than any drug.

  2. Dale Chihuly has the glass-artist-with-name-recognition thing to himself so the work you're describing is probably his. The next time you and Gene are down here, you'll have this new museum to check out AND the new Salvador Dali Museum will be open by then.

  3. I love blown glass. Had I not gone into woodworking, I would have gone into glass. Interestingly enough, though, I have been mentor to a niece (parents out of the picture for years now) who was doing Anime drawings when I came into her life. She was 15 at the time, and I asked her if she wanted to do something with her art. Long story short, she's 24 now, and last year she graduated cum laude from Cal State Fullerton with an art major. She works in blown glass, and my proudest possession is the little bear she made some years back as one of first projects.

  4. My MIL, an artist, will be crazy with excitement. She and my FIL winter in Pass-A-Grille.

  5. The centerpiece of the Indianapolis Children's Museum is by Dale Chihuly. It is wonderful. Check it out:


  6. So wonderful to hear the excitement in your voice Paul. My first Chihuly experience was also my first trip to Venice. Chihuly had created outrageous hanging glass chandeliers and suspended them throughout the city like scattered sea creatures. One was on the path near my hotel. It hung like a beacon,lighting the way in the same burnt oranges as the walls of the palazzo. It was suspended over a canal, so the reflections from water to glass were infinite. I've admired Chihuly's work all over the world and next week will be St. Petersburg. I can't wait!

  7. Cyra DuQuella10 July, 2010 11:59

    I saw an exhibition of his work in Seattle several years ago and was mesmerized by the shapes and colors. There were only photos of his outdoor installations - wishing I could see the ones in St. Petersburg. Lucky you to be so close .....and the press invitation.

  8. Holy sinuous scintillating silica Batman! Always been blown away by this man's hand. You are a lucky bastard to be awash in his creativity. The world (and the sandy corner known as St. Pete) is a bigger, brighter place for its presence among us. Jealous....

  9. I look for Chihuly's work in every city I visit. His ceiling sculpture at the Bellagio in Las Vegas is enormous and exquisite. I saw a similar exhibit to St. Petersburg's at the Kalamazoo Art Center in MI a few years ago. Even little St. Joseph, MI, where I lived for six years, has a Chihuly chandelier in the entry lobby of the Krazl Art Center!

    I hope the show is a huge success!

  10. My hubs was just mentioning a trip to Florida to try our flippers at scuba next summer. This is going on the advance copy of our itinerary - along with Dali! Thank you, thank you for sharing!

  11. Joseph: Great story, thanks for telling it.

    Raina: No way! Your in-laws have a place in Pass-A-Grille? That's my personal beach. Seriously. It's in my will that my ashes are to scattered off the jetty there. Sorry for the morbid segue but small world.

    Sharon: Wow! Who gets to dust it?

    JoAnn: I owe this whole experience to you and I cannot thank you enough.

    Cyra: It's an odd connection between a Seattle artist and Gulf Coast but I'm glad it's here.

    Rich: You'll have to revisit your lost youth on the beaches here one of these days.

    Mark: This collection is one for the books. I took a ton of photos this afternoon and they are my post for tomorrow.

    Cham: You'll be here after the new Dali opens in January. Wait until you see that museum.


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