Dale Chihuly has been one of my favorite artists since I was 9 years old. Yes, it was in the 4th grade that my obsession with this innovative and world-renowned glass-blower began. My art teacher, Ms. Horton, assigned us a project to learn about an artist, to present a little bio of them, and to create a piece of art inspired by that artist’s work. I chose Dale Chihuly, and it was love at first sight of his blown glass. The way he manipulates the glass in its form and function, he creates masterpieces that are so far and beyond what anyone else thought glass could be. And now, nearly twenty years later, I’m still absolutely mesmerized by his work. He’s nothing short of a visionary. And so naturally when I heard that his work would be on display nearby, Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden, I had to go see it!
One of the magical things about his art is that it can actually quite often imitate nature. So I knew that an installation in the massive and colorful NY Botanical Garden would allow his glass to imitate and complement the floral displays of the gardens. Beyond the similarities in form and color, the glass and the garden share a similarity in how they’ve been curated and manicured for display. When you bring these together as Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden, the garden becomes like a museum while the glass becomes like a garden.
Obviously enough, I had my expectations going into this experience. And quite remarkably, I was still blown away by this display. For one thing, I’ve never been to the New York Botanical Garden before, which is a shame because they’re massively impressive. You wouldn’t expect to find 250 acres of quiet and pristine gardens in the heart of the Bronx. But at NYBG there are over a million living plants, representing species from far reaching locales around the world! I’m a fan, I spent 5 hours exploring the grounds even after I had seen the Chihuly installations. So I would recommend you visit NYBG, even after the Chihuly pieces have gone.
Then you add onto this experience of being in the gardens, these massive installations of Chihuly’s blown glass. And it’s pure magic. It was actually breathtaking. He created several installations specifically for this venue, which are scattered about the park, including Blue Polyvitro Crystals, Red Reeds on Logs, Sol del Citron, and Sapphire Star (see more here). His pieces are outside in the gardens, in water displays, and throughout the greenhouse. And in each instance, the glass installation enhances the space that it’s in, giving it new meaning and purpose. His pieces force you to rethink the space they occupy, and you can marvel at his vibrant use of colors which are a feat in themselves.
I once took a glassblowing mini-class where we created just a basic round paperweight. I’ll say that first of all, working in the glassblowing studio is real hot, like uncomfortably hot. I don’t know how they do that all day. But also, it’s difficult to get a handle on the technique enough to actually make the final piece look how you envisioned it would. I loved throwing in different colors and swirling them about. It was like splattering paint on a canvas, but then it’s sealed under a glass dome so it looks polished and intentional. I loved it, I felt like the next Chihuly!
Another element of Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden is an indoor collection at the Mertz Library Art Gallery, featuring his paper sketches and early glass basket work. The Library also shows a series of video shorts about Chihuly’s life and work. I loved this behind-the-scenes look at how his team works in the studio! The more I learn about Chihuly, the more I’m impressed with how his vision for glassblowing is so unique from what anyone else does.
I hope you’ll understand why I’m so taken with Dale Chihuly’s art as you scroll through the photos of his installation at NYBG, and perhaps take an interest in it yourself. I hope also that you’ll make the trek up to NYBG because as you’ll see in my photos, it’s a lovely display of nature tucked away in the chaos of NYC.
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