Imagine a stroll through an enchanted garden twinkling with iridescent green glass cones, stands of glowing red reeds, clusters of translucent blue plants and gleaming flowers—all rendered in glass. Imagine an open-air gallery without walls. Imagine natural light illuminating vibrantly colored glass. If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing American glass artist Dale Chihuly’s spectacular outdoor installations, you’re in for a treat. Chihuly is famous for his magnificent glass sculpture inspired by everything from baskets to Ikebana, jellyfish to herons, rowboats to fishermen’s floats
While Denver Botanic Gardens exhibits “Chihuly” from June 14 to November 30, 2014, visitors can enter the imaginative landscapes created by the internationally celebrated artist and his creative team. Denver Botanic Gardens’ show will be the first large-scale exhibition in the Rocky Mountain region.
“The Chihuly exhibition will be an important contribution to summer tourism to both Denver and to the state of Colorado,” says Lisa Eldred, Director of Exhibitions, Art and Interpretation at Denver Botanic Gardens. Due in part to his loss of vision in one eye and to the large-scale nature of his designs, Chihuly directs a team of glass artists who execute much of the hands-on work in the creation process and installation. But Chihuly created the exhibition plan, Eldred says, complete with site selection and determination of the works he and his team will create and install. “An on-site installation team will implement his plan,” Eldred says. The artist will speak and sign copies of his books on Saturday, June 14.
Chihuly’s glass in the gardens will delight a broad audience. “Chihuly’s installations not only appeal to all ages, but also to varied art and garden audiences. On one hand, those without any knowledge of art will find the juxtaposition of his sculpture and the landscape captivating,” Eldred says. “To those well-versed in the language and history of art, Chihuly’s works in glass are significant not only for their scale and vision, but for their escape from the indoor gallery. Chihuly has pushed boundaries of what an artist can achieve within his own lifetime and what the medium can offer to achieve an artistic vision.”
Chihuly’s installations are playful and whimsical, yet sophisticated. “There is at once an otherworldly quality and recognizable aspect to his work. Fantastical, yet natural. Theatrical,” says Eldred. The drama of Chihuly’s outdoor installations draws from the juxtaposition of natural garden elements with luminous, translucent, colorful glass gracefully formed. And somewhat fragile.
Yet Eldred does not fret over hailstorms, thundershowers, blizzards or other wild Colorado weather almost guaranteed to move in over the course of the glass exhibit showing from spring through early winter. “Glass is remarkably strong and stable and has been exhibited in a variety of environmental conditions without issue,” she says. “These works are created for outdoor installation.” The art enhances the outdoors; and the great outdoors, in turn, enlivens the art. “An essential characteristic of any outdoor sculpture installation is the remarkable change in appearance in different seasons—a response to different times of day that offer varying qualities of light,” Eldred says.
And Chihuly works illuminated at night create another enchanting effect. “When illuminated at night, the translucent glass offers a completely new exhibition experience,” says Eldred. One of the pieces on the exhibition checklist that most excites Eldred is a 30-foot neon tower: “It’s sure to inspire,” she says. “At present, there are 12 locations throughout the gardens that will feature Chihuly’s site-specific installations, many of which are comprehensive and feature many co
mponents. Plans include a wonderful variety of towers, boats, floats, flowers and more, including large-scale works not exhibited previously,” Eldred says. “He has pushed the application of glass as an art medium during his decades-long career. Scale and combinations of forms are continually changing.”
Most of “Chihuly” will be installed outdoors in the gardens. “The exhibition utilizes varying environments within the gardens, including water features, natural soft-scapes and more formal pedestals,” says Eldred. “There will likelybe a couple of indoor complements, but the primary emphasis is outdoor.” Inside the main building, a film about Chihuly’s artistic process will be screened. “Visitors can enjoy it as orientation or as postscript to their experience,” Eldred says.
As part of his process, Chihuly frequently sketches his works with paint on paper prior to moving on to the hot glass phase. Along with his glass, the artist’s colorful and loose paintings also are widely collected and exhibited. The show at the gardens will not include works on paper, but the gardens’ gift shop will sell lithographs, as well as Pendleton blankets, studio editions and other Chihuly merchandise.
An audio tour featuring commentary by the artist will be available via cell phone. Docent-led tours and programs for adults and families will allow for multiple ways to experience “Chihuly”—a glass act.
When You Go
Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St., Denver, 720-865-3500, www.botanicgardens.org
Dale Chihuly Exhibit: June 14-Nov. 30, 2014
BIO: Colleen Smith, a regular contributor to the magazine, is the author of Glass Halo and Laid-Back Skier by Friday Jones Publishing. She also writes for The Denver Post and is the Denver Flower and Garden Examiner.