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Chihuly at VMFA

I’ve converted Gaston LaChaise’s “Standing Woman,” an icon of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, into a caricature of Mary Catherine Gallagher as a symbol of my reaction to the new Dale Chihuly exhibition at the museum. It’s not that the show is unimpressive, and I have a lot of respect for the work and achievements of Dale Chihuly, but, to me, the substance of the show is so much about art as a production commodity and about the phenomenon of the artist’s exploits, that access to the power of the art as experience is diminished. We are invited, instead, to view a large selection of the artist’s vast output, that, at times, seems to have been selected at random by an intern working in the shipping department of the Chihuly warehouse.

I’m not new to the work of Dale Chihuly. I first encountered him at a convention of glass artists in Charleston, West Virginia, back in about 1979. I remember his work from that conference as ambitious, big and beautiful. And the new show at VMFA is not without moments of wonder and clarity. The two parts I appreciated the most were the ceiling installation, seen in detail view above and the room full of “reeds,” that is shown in detail below.

In the ceiling display, hundreds of individual works are collected and stacked overhead resting on flat panels of glass, with light filtering through. With this piece, there is an overall effect of flattening the visual field so that these hundreds of things read like a single object. Combined with a compelling perspective shift (the overhead mounting) and an ongoing attention shift between the overall and the detail view of the piece, the effect is transformative.

The room full of “reeds,” located at the end of the tour, is engaging and stands out from the rest of the show for it’s clear focus and singular concept. Compared to the rest of the exhibition, which is supercharged with garish color and tends towards over-indulgence, the “reeds” provide a contemplative moment that allows the mind to expand. Kind of like a heavy sigh at the end of a tiring journey.

On the VMFA website, this show is listed a a “major exhibition,” but it reads more like a retrospective. With the possible exception of the room full of “baskets” that we sort of dashed through, the ideas for most of the work in the show appeared to have originated in the 1990’s or later, though I could not tell whether the pieces themselves were old or new.

Reacting to the “retrospective” feel of the show, I kept looking for more historical information about the artist and I kept wanting to see early work in an exhibition that seems to be mostly about the range and amplitude of Chihuly’s work. But then, maybe I have become the curmudgeonly, text happy museum visitor that museum label writers have learned to ignore! Then, again, it may be my very curmudgeon-li-ness that keeps me from renting the audio guide to the exhibition that could provide the very information I seek! Oh well.

At this point, I tire of trying to extrapolate meaning from an art experience that is probably intended to have none. After all, I do recall that Chihuly is quoted in the  exhibition’s introductory label saying something about the pitfalls of thinking too much about the work when he is making it. Maybe it is best to simply enjoy the pretty colors and ambitious, effusive mash-up of form that comprises most of the exhibition and leave it at that.

Chihuly has produced an enormous body of work that has great appeal to many, and causes people to hand over their VISA cards promptly. Colorful, shiny things are fun! Heck he is even a JOB CREATOR, employing leagues of energetic, muscle-bound artisans who spew out wondrous glass forms to a throbbing rock rhythm while the TV cameras roll! What could be better?

Still, curmudgeons like me may regard the show as awkward –  a conglomerate of  glitz and excess, assembled haphazardly, sometimes at random and celebrated with everything that regional (provincial?) marketing can bring to bear. …like Mary Catherine Gallagher dancing out of control, crashing through a wall and proclaiming herself a SUPERSTAR!

The rest of the images in this post are not meant to be representative of the art in the show. These are just me having my way with the exhibit as a photographic subject:


4 responses

  1. NICE, Althea really wants to see this show. I’m going to have to MIRA the photo I took of the one hanging in the lobby. I was standing with this woman that looked to be maybe a wealthy patron of the arts, complaining why couldn’t the man move that was spoiling her shot with her cell phone. I remarked that I knew a renown sculptor that enjoyed people in photos of his work to give the relationship of scale to the piece. She stared me in the eyes and said bull shit.. I liked her instantly!

    I feel like the nutty professor loosing my camera case and has pretty much queered my weekend. I’m hooked on photographing Tango dancers now, so that I’m looking forward to.

    The collage you describe as warehouse display photograph looks like a aquarium. That works for me at least in your photograph.

    October 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    • J Moser

      I’d like to go through the show again, when the crowds dies down. There were some things that I couldn’t see because of the mob. Maybe we can go over there together sometime.

      October 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm

  2. I was indifferent about glass but after seeing the red reeds in the pond and the big piece hanging in front of the biggest window on the east coast, I believe? I’m really drawn into Chihuly now. They should consider buying that piece. His work is a candy land for photographing which includes the viewer, really cool he allows it. I know nothing about this artist but look forward to learning more.

    Paul has started casting in glass if that’s the process?

    I was at the Museum just to photograph the dancers and didn’t expect to be further engaged.

    October 21, 2012 at 12:28 am

  3. The showed ended today and we got by yesterday just so Al could see this and the reeds outside. Folks with tickets were given a 15 minute time limit of viewing. I was curious how his work stood without all the color.

    February 10, 2013 at 11:13 pm

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