I’ve been home from Seattle for over week. A week? Already a week has flown by! Nuts!
On the day before I left, we visited the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass which is a recent addition to the area by the Needle and the Experience Music Project. The Chihuly space is an interesting one – obviously created just for this purpose, and therefore each installation is roomy and beautifully orchestrated. All artists should be so lucky to have their work seen like this. It’s also a serious marketing space – like most museums or theme park rides, you get to exit through the gift shop, and in this case it’s one hell of a merchandising gauntlet of all things Chihuly. This guy is as much a business as he is an artist (something that all artists should pay attention to).
I have an uneasy relationship with Dale Chihuly’s work. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see an artist in the “crafts” world make good. So often glass, metal, ceramics and fiber get the bastard step-child treatment in the fine art world. Chihuly has done some trail-blazing work with the glass medium, and in my book deserves accolades for it. But I have some “buts” too, and some thought about how these relate to quilting, so here goes:
I like the fact that he breaks scale with the huge pieces. He took glass off the pedestal, and pushed it into something so big and sculptural that it can’t be ignored like a shiny tchotchke in the corner. There is striking tension between the perceived fragility of glass and the towering structures he creates with it.
For instance, the Mille Fiori garden above. There is contrast between the idea of a garden of delicate plants made from hard glass, which, though fragile in its own right, will last years longer than the life of a real bloom. The intense color and scale are also quite confronting, while the smooth surfaces invite a museum-forbidden touch. And now that I’ve owned (and dropped) three different iPhones, my thoughts on the fragility of glass are not what they once were!
I find that I get pulled out of reverie of enjoying the pieces by wondering about how they are made. How *does* one create a tower of spiraling shoots? What type of armature is needed to support all the components? How many get broken? Do they make spares? Who dusts all this stuff? I will also confess that I think this way about a lot of things, so it might not be the fault of the art that I ponder its construction rather than its meaning.
And while I’m definitely a color junkie, I find the endless full saturation of bright colors a bit exhausting. Note to self here… not all quilts need ORANGE :-)
Of course I liked the ORANGE chandelier, above. But I also liked it the best because it is different from spiraling tendrils of most of Chihuly’s chandeliers, like the blue one on the right. It’s a shape that he uses constantly, and so while the first one or two are pretty WOW, the tenth one becomes a bit of a yawn. I think quilts do a better job of varying what can be done with our standard shapes of squares and rectangles, though I do wonder if there is any new take on the wonky log cabin block possible. I also find the chandeliers confronting. While I’ve become accustomed to the traditional lead crystal behemoths of older buildings, the spiky-ness of these in general makes me walk around them rather than under them. And is it because I can’t see, and therefore trust, the armatures like I can their older counterparts?
This vessel was in the Northwest Room. It is from a series of works where Chihuly was looking at the weaving patterns in traditional Native American baskets and responding to them in glass. Although this work pre-dates the big sculptures, I found it more deeply engaging. I like art that creates a conversation with other art. And yes, I was wondering how the woven lines are made in glass.
These vessels in the Macchia forest were also lovely. Each was at least two feet across, so a technical marvel as well as one of simple beauty, and lit to reflect their colors on the walls. I’ve traveled to a lot of European churches with spectacular stained glass, and seeing the colors reflected through to the interiors has always been a profound delight. I think I liked the reflections more than the vessels!
The interior spaces lead out to a full outdoor garden, where the glass is planted to interact with real flora. I was delighted by the pairings of plants and glass based on colors and shapes, and I think this was my favorite space. I wonder if the glass was made to match the plants, or the plants were found to match the glass. No matter… conversations between them were notable.
Chihuly is now known for no longer blowing his own glass. An injury took him out of the studio, and while he was directing his assistants he found he liked it better that way. The glass works sold in the gift store bear his name, but not his hand. And this is one of those things I find tricky… if I bought a Chihuly, would it be enough that he directed its creation, or would I expect him to be the maker? Art has a very long history of the studio assistant, and what it really comes down to is that if you want to get more work made, you eventually need more hands to help you. And who could blame an up-and-coming artist for wanting the stability of a studio job with access to the mind and tutelage of a guy who reportedly makes millions. The chance to hone your skills with someone else’s materials budget alone is pretty juicy.
I think about this in terms of how it relates to me as a pattern designer. While a pattern might be mine, if you make it I think it then becomes a collaboration. But if I give you the fabric, and tell you where to place it, are you still an involved artist, or are you just the construction tech at that point? I think push and pull of this line also exists when ever we send out a quilt for quilting, and especially if the resulting stitch pattern is the choice of the long-armer rather than the direction of the top-maker.
In my case, I would not credit the person constructing for me if their role offered no artistic interpretation beyond their technical assembly capabilities. I would, however, credit the person that quilts it if I gave them room to do their thing. And I doubt that I would ever stop sewing entirely – I love it too much!
So what are your thoughts?
All images taken by me with the permission of staff at Chihuly Garden and Glass.