Sunday, July 8, 2001
London A garden of richly colored glass ushers viewers into the Victoria and Albert Museum for a show on pioneering American glassblower Dale Chihuly that spans a quarter-century of his work.
It is the first show in Britain for the Washington native.
Chihuly and his team of 14 assistants needed more than two weeks to set the exhibition on the ground floor of the museum.
The superbly blown pieces stand in a line from the museum entrance through a hall of medieval art and into an inner courtyard garden, where the show's climax, a 25-foot "Tower of Light," soars over a pool.
Among the grass and trees of the courtyard are tall pointed spears of colored glass called "Reeds," bulbous glass shapes resembling plant pods ï¿½ which Chihuly calls "Seal Pups" ï¿½ and pieces that resemble uncoiling fronds and flowers.
Visitors entering the museum pass under a ceiling made of 450 pieces of glass and through an avenue of exotically shaped objects resembling baskets, Japanese flower arrangements and sea creatures.
Chihuly described the show as "more or less a 25-year retrospective of my work."
Some of the pieces were inspired by woven baskets made by American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, while others sprung from the artist's travels.
"Chihuly is supreme in the world of glass. He has revolutionized how glass is used as an art form and it has been a wonderful experience for us to work with him," said Jennifer Opie, deputy curator of ceramics and glass at the museum.
Since 1999, the museum has been the only place in Britain to display a large Chihuly work ï¿½ a massive chandelier of blue and yellow glass curlicues that hangs in the entrance hall. It was recently enlarged to 27 feet and now weighs 4,000 pounds.
Chihuly, a burly man who wears an eye patch after losing his left eye in an auto accident, said he was fascinated by the wealth of decorative art in the Victoria and Albert Museum when he first visited it as a young man.
"I always wanted to put on a big exhibition here and at last here it is," he said.
The artist now has work in more than 180 museums worldwide, including large exhibitions in Venice, Jerusalem and Monte Carlo and works in the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art at Kansas University.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, named by Queen Victoria after herself and her husband, Prince Albert, houses the world's largest collection of decorative arts.
It includes the national collection of glass, with some 8,500 pieces covering 4,000 years of the craft, from ancient Egypt onwards.
The Chihuly exhibition runs through Oct. 21.