Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chihuly Garden and Glass: New Seattle Museum worthy of "Wow!"

View from Chihuly Garden of "Sun" and Glasshouse
It's been open just three weeks, but even months before, my husband and I were peeking through the reed-like iron fence and boarded-up perimeter of glass-master Dale Chihuly's new museum taking shape in the shadow of the Space Needle at Seattle Center.  Now that I've had a chance to wander through, my reaction is "Wow!" not just for the brilliant colors, wormy, blobby and creative shapes, stunning yet familiar compositions, but for the fantasy-worldly experience that plucked me from normal life into enlarged imagination.

I'm a sucker for bright colors, and so's Dale Chihuly, as most of his innovations involve strong hues in moving shapes.  The only muted room of 9 honors the Northwest, where a display of vintage earth-toned Native American baskets, warped by use and time, is mimicked by similarly slumping glass cylinders and bowls in pale egg and ochre tones. But even that display, complemented by dozens of sepia Edward S. Curtis photogravures of dignified local native residents, occupies a hall where spotlights illuminate a wall of brightly-patterned blankets. It seems every Chihuly idea needs primary color pop.

Rowboat of floats reflect; at right is end of Ikebana boat
And so, entering each subsequent room brings a gasp of surprise and delight. My personal favorite was the Ikebana and Float Boat room, where twin wooden rowboats, reflected on black acrylic stands, hold colorful round bubble-floats, and twisty spiral tubes, respectively. The bubbles, some nearing two feet in diameter, had been tossed as an art experiment into the river near Chihuly's Nuutajärvi, Finland workshop and gathered by local teens into their rowboats, inspiring the arrangement.

Mille Fiori, with 'tower" element in foreground
Another of my faves is the Mille Fiori room, where brilliant oceanic forms squirm and writhe up from the reflective acrylic, culminating with a yellow "tower" of wriggling tubes, the form for which Chihuly is probably most famous. Mille Fiori, of course, means "thousand flowers," but this darkened room definitely feels underwater, despite the tower's explosion of hot colors. The long, hollow forms were fitted over pipes embedded in a concrete stand, not only to provide secure structure but to allow the artist to change the composition's components with ease.

I learned about the exhibits not only from posted descriptions but from a docent whose five-minute explanations suggested her own expertise as a glass-blower.  The garden, with its central medusa-ish orb, often the only "Sun" in our rainy clime, fascinated tourists who learned how long reed shapes are gravity-pulled and annealed, and how chunks of a resin-ish looking material in another garden feature were Chihuly's own invention, for outdoor projects that would otherwise burst from heat and cold. Four-foot glass spikes were like sister shoots in the garden surrounded by the sticker-edged growth of (real) blue thistles.

My friend capturing a piece of the Persian Ceiling
Other memorable environments were created in the Persian Ceiling room, where overhead an amalgam of bright back-lit pieces jumble large and small. "Persian" glass forms are circular, open plates, irregularly and flowingly devised, reminiscent to me of splayed jellyfish or seaweed flowers that would undulate with the currents. With Chihuly's penchant for unusual spirochete, amoeba and anemone-like forms, nine resin-style cherubs tucked among them seemed out of place, but easily ignorable as your neck crinks in fascination with the ample array of weird, mutatious shapes above.

The architectural centerpiece of the museum is the Glasshouse, an arched-sided greenhouse-like hall inspired by Chihuly's love of plant conservatories. Looking up through the clear roof past suspended sets of flower-vine-like Persians, you can see the Space Needle loom, peering at its curious Lilliputian admirers.

Space needle seen through roof of Glasshouse
And so we were indeed in awe, captivated by the creativity and revved by the intensity of the panoply of Pantone, blasted in our awareness by startling confrontation. And of course, I wanted to capture it all, and yes! Photography was not only allowed, but roving staff photographers obligingly took our photos free, with the stunning glass backdrops, sent home by email.

My thrill renews when I view my photos (some in this post) from yesterday, but the images only urge me to escape again to that wondrous world of shape and movement and color. If you come to Seattle, don't miss it.

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