Dale Chihuly and the Intensification of Art
by William Warmus
(First published in our Chihuly catalogue
What is Dale Chihuly trying to accomplish as an artist? His work is not there to amuse, or to provide ornamentation. Chihuly is an intense person whose exhibitions have become so popular that they at times verge on inciting an art riot. Perhaps that is what Chihuly is all about: the intensification of art and of the experience of art.
Glass is the perfect medium for an artist driven to capture intensity, which is all about strength, and amplification, and escalation. Despite its fragility, glass is strong in the awesome way a volcano is strong: the sheer physical power of the volcano is evident as it erupts with lava, which is natural glass. Molten glass cradled in the furnace is essentially lava under temporary control, and that pool of molten red hot stuff challenges the artist to build the muscles and develop the skills necessary to keep the glass under control without breaking its spirit.
Perhaps the greatest examples of Chihulyian escalation are his Chandeliers and Towers, made from hundreds or even thousands of individual blown components anchored into stainless steel armatures that are themselves wonderfully intricate monuments to welder’s art. From one point of view, these are color field sculptures of great beauty. But they are also symbols of restless, unbridled growth. Traditional chandeliers have been defined by the needs to wire the arms to receive light bulbs. Freed of the strangling vines of electrical cables, Chihuly’s Chandeliers are art.
Continuous escalation leads to gigantism and collapse. Chihuly ‘s genius has been to establish a rhythm to his approach. Like the ocean tides, his art waxes and wanes in scale. From the grand and intricate chandeliers he moves freely to the intimately scaled Piccolo Venetians, Seaforms and Basket sets. Chihuly delights in the large and the small reminding us that intensification can mean miniaturization, where broad and sweeping artistic effects are distilled and made precious.
Such a bold approach to art benefits from a striking display, and it was the particular genius of Holsten Galleries, which has represented Chihuly since 1981, to create an environment for the artist’s work at the end of the long central promenade of Sofa Chicago, in a position where it would become the focal point for the exposition. Five years ago they first showcased Chihuly’s architectural scale installations, premiering his wall Sconces as well as a Tower. The tradition continues in 2001. Chihuly and Holsten join forces to welcome all who love art for its intensity and ability to focus our passions.
Warmus is the author of The Essential Dale Chihuly (Abrams), former curator of the Corning Museum of Glass and a contributing editor of Glass magazine. He is also a lecturer and appraiser of glass art.
Visit the Chihuly section of the Holsten Galleries site.
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