Deal With the Devil

Dale Chihuly makes art for the masses. The masses deserve better.

Before I am accused of Puritanism, let me say that Chihuly is not pure evil. His public installations, especially his experiments at locales like the Stewart Williams House in Palm Springs, are visually interesting. He has done his part to question false distinctions between craft and fine art. And there is nothing wrong with the notion of bringing art to the masses, a time-honored artists' conceit, quaint and quixotic and smelling only vaguely of a mildewed Utopia. But by advocating a diet of nothing but eye candy, Chihuly compromises art's standards ever so slightly--a process that, in the end, leads us into temptation, into a betrayal of art's possibilities. He denies us the pleasure of being puzzled, of being intrigued or curious enough to sally forth into the books and learn. He denies us the joy of looking long and hard, of gradually seeing parts unfold and figuring out how they fit into the whole, of solving visual conundrums.

The notion that art doesn't have to be difficult, or challenging, or even make you think is nothing more than voodoo art history, a bait-and-switch tactic that takes full advantage of art's exalted status without delivering the goods. For this reason, and this reason alone, viewing the bonbons at Pillsbury and Peters' show is not even as satisfying as a trip to the aquarium, where at least the creatures are real and we can scratch our heads over the higher purpose of this color or that shape. In the end, Dale Chihuly turns out to be to art what fashion and entertainment correspondents are to the legitimate press: an unfortunate and embarrassing lowering of discourse, a sad effort to atone for art-world excesses by pandering to nitwits.

The devil's handiwork: Sunflower Yellow Seaform Set With Cherry Lip Wraps, 2001
The devil's handiwork: Sunflower Yellow Seaform Set With Cherry Lip Wraps, 2001


Through January 26; 214-969-9410
Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art, 2913 Fairmount

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