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No one in contemporary glass history has done more for the medium of Glass than Dale Chihuly (1941-) with works in over 165 museums worldwide, we could call him the “Prince of Glass”. Irrespective of whether his work appeals to your aesthetic view and/or troubled eyesight, one cannot deny the monumental aspect of the later works that sometimes help us look at our environment in a totally new way. Much of Chihuly’s work is done by “helping hands” always under the supervision of the “master glass architect“, an ever glorious orchestra leader, leading us to the grand cathedral of the new seeing!
His work has been extensively covered over the last 20 years by a number of books like the one shown above Chihuly Over Venice (1996). The books excel in their own right by the fabulous documentary aspects and the great photography. By the way, this is one method of selling large projects that are hard to envision for the “cultivated eye” of the museum director or urban planner or for that matter anyone else whose approval is necessary in order to loosen the purse strings.
They also know that the exemplary execution of these masterpieces will bring them fame in the large media receptions that follow and of course tourists as well. Can we accuse the Rubenesque artist of absorbing and devouring all that fame for the creation of the Princely Media Image? Perhaps, it is one aspect of personality we can easily overlook. Is there a taking advantage of always looking for a new site-specific work to re-create a new SUPER “view” in an age where we easily overlook small scale work done by superb modern artists working on a human scale and perhaps more humane? Of course! BUT he is truly the man who has done more for the medium of glass in the last 40 years than anyone else in the last 100 years. More so than any Italian glass artist of re-known, in my opinion, even if some of the Chihuly produced work appears as “garish” over the top hype!
So let us look at some of the books and enjoy the spectacular colors in his work, and let us not discount in any way some of the difficulties in producing these. Let us see how the Master takes us to see light in a new way.
The image above could appear to be a kafkaesque scene, full of mystery and magic, leading the helpless traveler through a dark Venice toward the light. (yes we know that Kafka did not write about Venice) The above images are from the 1996 Venice book.Some of the small scaled work Chihuly made was shown in the earlier museum exhibition book Form from Fire (shown above and below) that exhibition traveled all over Florida in 1993/94 and to North Carolina in 1995.
Due to the size of some of the books it is not easy to scan them perfectly for this post, but the colors of the works reproduce well enough. The next book from 1997 author Donald Kuspit gives us an unbridled access to the process and the people involved in many of Chihuly’s works. The large book with 337 pages, beautifully designed by the well known graphic designer Massimo Vignelli is extraordinary in scope.
The next book, shown below, was printed in 7500 copies. It is titled Chihuly Projects published in the year 2000 by Abrams. The book covers 33 projects by the artist. The two essays, in my opinion, take into account the actual times we live in. Here is the rear cover that clearly shows the monumental scope of a project, similar to the medieval cathedral rising to the mystical heavens.
The rather impassionate, cold social view of the world expressed in one of the essays in this book by Dale Lanzone brings us back to the real world of mass media, mass manipulation, massive governmental influence and social engineering, a common practice used by all involved in these types of massively scaled projects. Even though the book is equally strong photographically, as the previous book, the documentary aspect takes precedence through the showing of the preliminary drawings.
The glass installations are freed from restrictive architecture. The book shows us the true artistic ambitions of Chihuly in re-working the medium. Through the drawings we get a glance at the seductive mind of this artist, who no longer needs the approval of the “popes of the art world ” nor does he need the interested innocent viewer who was part of Chihuly’s world previously. Here we find greatness or as we would say genius at work in an ever grand manner on the way to artistic immortality. The book is strong in poetic images.
Now take a look at Chihuly as he explains in this video Dale Chihuly: Gathers and Forms how the masters work their glass. Exceptional!
So to come full circle here is the book that explains a bit about the development of the artistic origins of some of the earliest work. A 1994 Exhibition hardbound catalog simply titled Chihuly Baskets.
Yes, I would not attempt to rate any of the work but hopefully I have been able to share impressions leafing through the books sometimes elated and sometimes indifferent, but never untouched by the poetic beauty expressed by a world class artist perhaps comparable in future stature to Picasso or Rubens after all.