Dale Chihuly, the artist best known for his fanciful and kaleidoscopic blown-glass sculptures, began a 28-week exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden on Saturday, the longest spring/summer show ever hosted there.
Chihuly’s relationship with the Bronx institution dates back to a 2006 exhibition, and for fans of that show, garden president and CEO Gregory Long says , “that was [just] a taste of the real thing, and this is bigger and even better and [an] even more beautiful show.”
Chihuly turned 75 years old in September and — whether consciously or not — his past and his legacy were on his mind as he conceived this latest exhibit, titled simply “CHIHULY.” Two years in the planning, it is more retrospective than novelty, comprising more than 20 installations, four of which were newly created for this show. The others are re-imagined or reconfigured pieces.
But even the new work pays homage to Chihuly’s lengthy career. The “Koda” series is inspired by his 1975 installation at ArtPark in upstate New York. There, Chihuly displayed panes of handblown stained glass arrayed in metal frames, as in “Koda #1” and “Koda #2” in the Native Plant Garden; and individually angled against each other, as in “Koda #3” in the conservatory’s tropical pool.
But the “Koda” studies use polycarbonate that lacks the ripples and imperfections of handblown glass, leaving the light lusterless and flat.
Another new work is “Neon 206,” named for the sculpture’s original number of noble-gas-filled tubes. It is best viewed during the exhibition’s evening hours; in daylight, the fervor of the glowing gasses is imperceptible, resembling a tangle of pastel tubing waiting for installation in the Whitney Museum.
While some of the art seems incongruous on the grounds, the colors and shapes are anything but dull in such natural surroundings. Most appealing are the conservatory pieces, where the staff painstakingly selected the accompanying flora.
Britt Cornett, head of exhibitions at Chihuly Studios in Seattle, explained that many of the installations were born from relationships built over Chihuly’s career, “working together with different studios that may have different techniques and sharing that information between teams.”
Epitomizing this cross-cultural creation is “White Tower with Fiori.” The tower, made in 1997 in the Czech Republic, features opaque white glass carved to reveal pink glass beneath. The encircling trumpet flowers and spears were made in a Finnish studio with very large annealing ovens (where the blown glass is slowly cooled) allowing for the creation of much longer, contiguous pieces.
The overseas studios also have access to chemicals — and therefore colors — illegal in the U.S. Electric pinks were created using erbium in Finland and ultra-vivid greens were made using uranium in the Czech Republic.
While this exhibit coalesced over 40 years, as the gardens evolve over the next six months the appreciation of Chihuly’s work will change as well.