Glass Menagerie

The spectacular Dale Chihuly solo sparkles at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

Around the corner in the North Gallery is another "Chandelier" carried out in the very Venetian color combination of antique gold and pale aquamarine. It is similar in some ways to the orange piece, but it's different, too: It hangs all the way to the floor, thus suggesting a sculpture as opposed to a light fixture. This huge "Chandelier" is at the center of the room and anchors an installation of large-scale acrylic-on-paper drawings. Done with vivid, sometimes fluorescent shades of paint applied with squeeze tubes, the automatist compositions are clearly studies of color combinations and effects that are later seen in the glass. Chihuly's primary art form is drawing, with the actual blowing of the glass having been left to others since the 1970s.

In the East Hallway is a display of "Putti Sealife" and examples of "Ikebana," among others. The "Putti Sealife" refer back to a long Venetian tradition of combining fish with cherubs in absurd, though gorgeous, combinations. In these pieces, which are among the most beautiful things in a show filled with beautiful things, Chihuly creates elegant deep bowls of translucent or transparent glass. The bowl forms are closed at the top and done with luxurious glass techniques, including suspended gold flakes. On each, there's a sculptural finial that incorporates the fish-and-cherub motif in transparent glass with a tremendous amount of gold flakes. The "Ikebana" pieces are based on Japanese flower arrangements, with the results being Japanesque vessels in opaque multi-colored glass, topped with glass flowers.

In the big East Gallery, there's a pair of monumental "Chandeliers" and a selection of blue-and-white "Baskets," most of which were created in the 1990s and represent a return to Chihuly's interest of two decades earlier. Also reflecting back to that early period are the "Jerusalem Cylinders" from the late 1990s, which bear a close kinship to the first "Blanket Cylinders." As suggested by the title, the "Jerusalem Cylinders" were inspired by samples of ancient glass unearthed in Israel.

"Autumn Gold and Aquamarine Chandelier," by Dale 
Chihuly, glass assemblage.
"Autumn Gold and Aquamarine Chandelier," by Dale Chihuly, glass assemblage.

Details

Through August 14, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581

A small pair of galleries immediately adjacent to the East Gallery features "Persians" and an installation from the 1990s, "Niijima Floats." The installation is made of two dozen blown-glass spheres in juicy candy colors that are laid on a bed of broken clear glass; it's a showstopper.

Follow up a tour of those galleries with a trip outside to the beautiful courtyard, where an installation of the "Mille Fiori XVII" was put in the fountain so that the blown glass rises out of the pool of water; another rises from a flower bed. In both, long vertical spikes, suggestive of plants, are arranged in a group with spheres and other simple shapes.

The crescendo of the show comes in the South Gallery, the last one devoted to the show. This room is dominated by works from the "Macchia" series; they were installed as a "Macchia Forest" with thirteen pieces on individual pedestals of varying heights. Chihuly began the "Macchia" pieces in 1981, but these are from a more recent series, the newest of which was completed only a year or so ago. The "Macchia" pieces are based on Venini's famous fazzoletto vases, which imitate the form of a handkerchief being waved in the air. And like the Veninis, Chihuly uses a three-layer sandwich of glass with opaque white in the middle so that the outside can be a different color than the inside. I could not leave this gallery without mentioning how great the eggplant-colored walls look as a foil to the glowing glass.

In a sense, this gallery is the formal end of Chihuly, but there are other major pieces hung in the rest of the CSFAC. In the lobby, there's the center's own Chihuly chandelier, and down at the end of the breathtaking El Pomar Hallway, in a formal anteroom space backed by floor-to-ceiling windows, is the striking "Autumn Gold, Citron and Scarlet Tower." The piece, essentially a "Chandelier" turned upside down, is yet another showstopper on the order of the "Niijima Floats" installation. Immediately to the left in the Deco Lounge is "Gilded Sapphire Chandelier," one of the newest works in the show, done only a year ago.

Chihuly is well worth the three-hour round trip from Denver, and I unreservedly recommend it to everyone.

Dale Chihuly will make a rare personal appearance at the CSFAC on Friday, June 24, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., for a book signing. The museum shop has a wide variety of Chihuly books available.

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