VENICE ANYONE

The inaugural show for Pismo Gallery's new space in Cherry Creek is a splendid survey of recent work by Dale Chihuly, the prominent glass sculptor from Washington state. Chihuly is represented by many examples of his most characteristic work, groups of small blown-glass elements nested in large ones. By assembling several different parts to create a single piece, Chihuly is able to transcend the size limits inherent in the physical act of blowing glass. More than any other attribute, this ability to make glass sculpture in monumental proportions is responsible for Chihuly's formidable national reputation.

Most often in a Chihuly sculpture, the individual parts share the same set of colors. At his Pilchuck studio on the banks of Puget Sound, an army of assistants produces glass forms in the same color combinations for several days running; then Chihuly, who describes himself as a "craftsman, designer, architect [and] artist," assembles them with an instinctive sense for putting the various shapes together.

His "Persian Series," launched in 1986, incorporates elements from his most famous series of the nested type, "Sea Forms," begun in 1980. There are several wonderful examples of these works in the show; especially memorable is a magnificent piece that combines forms evocative of sea shells, anemones and the tendrils of plants. Each component is made of a strong taxicab yellow, internally striped with a soft amber and tipped out in a deep, nearly black maroon.

In addition to these sculptures and a wall-mounted relief, the exhibit includes Chihuly works in forms more commonly associated with art glass: vases and a chandelier. There are several beautiful vases from the "Macchia Series," large, brilliantly colored fazzoletto forms that invariably suggest Venetian glass. This Venetian connection is not unexpected, since Chihuly, when he was just out of graduate school, worked as an apprentice in the legendary Venini workshop in Venice, an opportunity rarely granted an American.

The influence of Venice, with its 1,000-year tradition of glassmaking, profoundly affected Chihuly even before he went there, and all his work is touched by it. This is especially true of his shapes that recall the golden age of modernist Vene-tian glass, a period that lasted from the 1920s through the 1960s and drew the attention of such artists as Picasso and Miru.

Paying even more direct homage to the city is the rich and bold "Venetian Series," a group of baluster vases executed by the Italian master Lino Tagliapietra. These vases, some large, some of the small cabinet type, feature many of the gaudy and eye-dazzling techniques the Venetians are known for: flakes of gold or other metal imbedded in the glass, leopard spots, fused canes creating ribbonlike handles and, most of all, almost garish colors in radical and surprising combinations.

The one chandelier included here also strikes an Italian note, gathering together scores of red spiral horns like a bunch of grapes. At the bottom is a clear, gold-dusted drop in the form of a putto on a trapeze.

Chandeliers, ordinarily decorative items, interest Chihuly as an art medium. One of the largest installations he has ever planned, titled "Chihuly Chandeliers Over Venice" and set for completion in 1996, consists of five enormous chandeliers that are to be hung over the city's small side canals. "I want to fill the canal with chandeliers," Chihuly explains. The artist thus hopes to merge the two most acclaimed attractions of the city--its glass and its waterways.

The chandelier stunt, which will be recorded jointly by Seattle's PBS affiliate and several European networks, is guaranteed to generate widespread interest. And talk about knowing how to get attention: What about Pismo director and owner Sandy Sardella? The word is out--with no small help from Chihuly--that her formerly conservative gallery has taken on a bold new direction at its brand-new Fillmore Street address.

Dale Chihuly, through April 28 at Pismo Gallery, 235 Fillmore Street, 333-7724.

 
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