Google “famous glass artist” and the first entry that comes up is “Dale Chihuly.” The second lists seven “famous glass masters,” Chihuly and six artists you may never have heard of.
Personally, the only other glass artist I can name is Harvey Littleton, the father of the modern glass movement and Chihuly’s mentor.
Dale Chihuly has pretty much cornered the market as far as glass art goes. Since the late 1960s and early 1970s when he studied with Littleton at the University of Wisconsin, apprenticed in Venice, and established both the glass program at Rhode Island School of Design and the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington, Chihuly’s fame has expanded fabulously, leaving the burly, curly-haired, piratically eye-patched impresario of razzle-dazzle atop the world of glass art all by himself.
Well, not quite by himself. Chihuly hasn’t blown glass himself since 1979 when he injured himself bodysurfing. He employs a staff of hundreds, travels with a huge entourage, and has his ideas executed by assistants. And those ideas tend to boil down to one predominant aesthetic – be flamboyant!
Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (April 10 to August 7) will be like an early 70th birthday celebration for the great man, filling the museum’s new Shapiro Family Courtyard and Ann and Graham Gund Gallery with a dazzling display of a wild array of colored glass, most inspired by flowers and plant life and calculated to outshine Mother Nature in terms of sparkle and gaudiness.
The signature piece of the Boston MFA show is the latest iteration of Chihuly’s Lime Green Icicle Tower, a 42-foot high stalk of glass spikes that is essentially one of Chihuly’s familiar, Medusa-like chandeliers mounted upside down. There are also several of Chihuly’s spectacular chandeliers and the 58-foot long Mille Fiori installation last seen at the RISD Museum three years ago.
Glass artists have often been dismissed by fine artists for creating “eye candy,” beautiful objects that are all show and no meaning. Dale Chihuly seems to have taken on this challenge with a vengeance, pushing the decorative qualities of glass to the max, making it as garish, glittering, and flowery as possible. And it works.
If you just want to make your retinas dance, get to the MFA this spring.
[Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston MA, 617-267-9300.]