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.