Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chihuly in Nashville

Tom and I went to see the Dale Chihuly shows both at Cheekwood and at the Frist in Nashville.  We thought that the big, organic form glass pieces looked better outside in the landscape than in captivity inside the old post office.  Still, wherever you see them, they are amazing.  Tom called them "eye candy," and he meant that in a good way.

We weren't allowed to photograph inside the Frist Center, so all the photographs here are from the Cheekwood show.  First you go in the Botanic Hall, and you see the "Macchia."  Like most of Chihuly's work, the Macchiae seem to be abstractions of some sort of organic form, maybe a sea creature of some kind.  I have always loved the tropical plants in the atrium in the Botanic Hall, which themselves have amazing forms, so these glass plants or sea creatures seemed right at home there.


Later Tom pointed out that these "cups" couldn't be outside or they would accumulate water, and maybe even breed mosquitoes.  True.

Next you go behind the Botanic Hall and you see a tall "Saffron Tower," which probably looks better lit up at night.  (Cheekwood is open on Thursdays and Fridays at night, when all the glass is lit up.  I'm planning to go back and see it at night sometime.)  Next to the tower are the "Cattails," which look perfect in their garden setting.  Whoever sited them paid close attention to color harmonies.

I love the way the orange complements the purple foliage below.



After the cattails, you walk down an allee, and you see in the distance some blue pointy things that turn out to be more pieces in Chihuly's "Fiori" series.  I think "fiori" means flowers in Italian.  Chihuly studied glass-blowing in Venice, where glass-blowing reached a peak in the early Renaissance.



Up close, the blue and green spikes look like this:

Again, the color coordination is very good:


It's fortunate that Cheekwood has a Japanese garden, because Chihuly has some pieces that have a Japanese theme.  "Niijima Floats" is based on fishing floats used in Japan.


Sadly, you are not allowed to walk around in the Japanese gardens and get up close to the "floats."  You can look at them from a Japanese-style pavilion, though.

There are also "Bamboo Reeds" among the real bamboo, which I particularly liked, being aficianado of bamboo and a prolific grower of bamboo myself.  Bamboo forms are among the most subtle and beautiful of the plant world.

Then you progress to the three large koi ponds at Cheekwood.  Well, at least, when I was a little girl there were huge koi in these pools.  I seem to remember that we had to release one of our own overgrown goldfish into one of these ponds once.  Anyway, this summer they are home to an installation called "Walla Wallas," named after the onions from Chihuly's home state of Washington.  But these are onions that float.


Above the waterfall in the upper right, you can see a boat filled with heron-like figures of many colors.

One thing that's great about this show is how kid-friendly it is.  There were a lot of little kids in strollers and on foot running around Cheekwood ooh-ing and ah-ing at the brightly colored objects. Too bad you can't touch!  One little kid even pronounced the biggest piece on the front lawn to be "breath-taking."

Here it is, the piece de resistance, called "The Sun":

To me this piece resembled something you might see at a very ambitious birthday party, where the parents have hired a balloon artist to blow up a lot of balloons and twist them into funny shapes.  But it's glass!  And it's very big.  Chihuly wrote, of the inspiration for this piece:

"If you take a thousand blown pieces of a color, put them together, and then shoot light through them, that's going to be something to look at.  It's mysterious, defying gravity or seemingly out of place--like something you have never seen before."

I like Chihuly's idea that it's ok to make something that's just pure spectacle, pure intense color and light. Color and light are what visual experience is made of.  Why not push that to the limit?  Of course, in this piece, the elements of line and form are also "something to look at."  When I look at visual art, I want it to be "something to look at."  A lot of visual art of the last two or three decades has been more "something to think about," rather than something that's there for pure visual pleasure.  It's refreshing to be handed some pure visual pleasure, almost like a flavor.  "The Sun" looks delicious, like some kind of Dairy Queen extravaganza.  Or again, like a sea creature or tropical plant.  The huge boxwoods in front of Cheekwood (themselves something to look at) were a good foil for this big yellow flower.

Inside the big house, there were more marvels, but we weren't allowed to photograph.  Chihuly made some chandeliers for Cheekwood, and there's one in the spiral stairwell, and three in the glassed-in porch.  I hope they're there to stay.  The Swan Ball will never be the same again (not that I've ever been to it).   There was also a small exhibit of Chihuly's drawings.  Chihuly himself doesn't blow glass any more, due to a shoulder injury.  He works with "gaffers," strong guys who blow and tilt-a-whirl the glass into the shapes that he's drawn.  He works collaboratively with a large team of helpers.  You can see a very interesting film about the process in the courtyard gallery at the Frist Learning Center, next to the big house. (Don't ask me why so many things in Nashville are called The Frist Something or Other.  The same is true at Princeton.)

One thing I liked about the drawings, which were really paintings on paper, was that Chihuly used iridescent watercolor paints.  Go for the gusto!  Don't worry about being tacky!  Just do it!  Now I want to make a bunch of iridescent watercolor paintings. Again, Chihuly's design sense is kind of child-like and playful, uninhibited, in an admirable way.  As Picasso said, "Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up."  Answer:  use a lot of bright colors and sparkly things.  And then make it really big.

On to the grotto and the shell fountain, over beside the big house, near that spectacular wisteria arbor.  Here we find the blue marlins and yellow herons:



















You can see Tom looking down over this scene in this picture:

Since Cheekwood is built on the top of a hill, the gardens around the house are terraced, in a lovely way.  Below this grotto is a reflection pool, and Chihuly placed an installation there called "Mille Fiori," or a thousand flowers.  Chihuly's mother was an avid gardener, and she remains an influence on him.


The way the forms reflect themselves in the water adds to the pleasure of looking at and photographing these pieces.  The many new forms created by the reflections and the sky and the clouds remind me of Monet's water lily paintings.  I really wanted to come back and spend a day at Cheekwood drawing some of the installations.

Walking back to the parking lot, you pass another little pond that DOES have a waterlily in it!

In the background you see the "Blue Polyvitro Crystals."

Finally, there's a piece that is pink, a color not seen in the other pieces.  This glass also has some iridescent colors in it:

It reminded me of Victorian glass Christmas tree ornaments, only really big.

This show is really worth seeing.  Take a child and a picnic, a camera and some Prismacolor pencils and paper, and enjoy the eye candy.

20 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed your descriptions and reflections, Shannon. Thank you! Donna

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