While studying interior design and architecture, Chihuly took courses in weaving, which led to increased experimentation with joining fiber and glass. Eventually he took it further and began exhaling into the work, breathing growth and life into his objects. Now you can't begin to consider glass art without thinking of Chihuly -- whose exhibition at Dallas Arboretum opens on May 5.
I saw one of his massive productions at the Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Miami half a decade ago and now another is en route to the Big D. While Dale will make certain pieces uniquely for the property and position the rest according to the slope and scale of the landscape, the central elements of the show -- iconic shapes, evening hours with musical accompaniment and meticulous lighting schemes -- remain the same.
Getting lost in that landscape wonderland was lovely. It's an experience that I treasure. But afterwards something happened: I went into a college library and saw a massive Chihuly chandelier hanging -- totally out of place -- in an atrium that showcased portraits and artifacts of the Dalai Lama. Comparatively it was gaudy, excessive and, well, it triggered a dry heave.
Suddenly it seemed that everywhere I went was saturated in glass globes, orbs and twisted tubes. It's like Chihuly was chasing me, and it wasn't pretty anymore. I'd be in a candy shop: bang! Chihuly. The movies: Whaaat? Really? Chihuly? Soon, I didn't even feel safe going out: I knew he would be there, waiting, probably even at the beach. (Chihuly, is that a glass shark swimming after me?) Soon it was no longer about positioning art correctly so that it could be appreciated contextually; it was about who had enough cash to hang up a bunch of Chihulys.
So I wonder: Will Dale Chihuly's biggest asset double as his greatest challenge? Has he become so overexposed throughout his career that other people have also burnt out on him? He's shown his Goliath productions in more than 200 spaces around the world which, yes, is a testament to his demand. But when does supply tip demand?
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You can bet that the endless trail of financial backers for Chihuly's upcoming Dallas exhibition have considered that. To gain access, ship, and insure a collection of this size comes with a very hefty price tag (1.8 million) and a lot of firm handshakes.
The money sits on whether Dallas and surrounding areas have yet had their fix. If the production goes well it increases our visibility as a cultural hub and puts tourism bucks in the pockets of local businesses, so I hope that regionally we haven't overdosed on blown glass. And complex money trickling aside, people deserve to see Chihuly's work with fresh eyes and in the Arboretum setting -- where pieces lovingly nestle into bushes, brazenly suspend themselves from trees and bathe gracefully in the water.
And when Dale packs up his toys and leaves I don't want a bunch of souvenirs left behind or they'll wind up hanging next to dinosaur bones at the new Perot Museum, marring our memories of when we saw it done right.