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A look at the lesser-known side of Chihuly

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Here's a word you don't often hear associated with Dale Chihuly: subtlety.

But actually, there's a lot of it in his art. Take, for instance, his works from the '70s and early '80s, which are muted, but still exquisite. Several pieces from that era belong to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and will be on display when the museum unveils its newest show, Chihuly Rediscovered.

Among them are a cylinder of grayish frosted glass covered in a matte finish that's slightly iridescent, and another clear basket with a milky rim speckled with brown spots. Museum director Blake Milteer says Chihuly helped push such objects, once considered craft or applied art, into the realm of fine art.

As his works brightened, he advanced the realm of glass work further by sandwiching white pigment between layers of glass, letting the hues pop while also allowing the exterior to take on a different color than the interior.

Since the FAC began collecting Chihulys after its 2005 blockbuster, Chihuly at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, audiences have seen his work paired with Native American art and abstracts. But now, it's going to show all on its own — displaying the full extent of the FAC's holdings, plus pieces from local collectors, and some works that haven't been shown before — in what Milteer describes as an intense, immersive experience.

The full collection ranges from the chandeliers to his macchia (large vase-type pieces, named after the Italian for "spotted," given their appearance); Persians (wall-mounted, flatter pieces that are more delicate); and paintings and etchings that serve as studies for the sculptures and artworks in themselves.

Those two-dimensional pieces shed light on the artist's current role in making the art that bears his name, a process that has drawn criticism along with international praise.

"There's a whole lot of talk about the fact that Chihuly doesn't lay his hands on the glass works that are created in the studio," Milteer says. "My response to that is: big deal. All throughout history, for thousands and thousands of years, artists have run studios. And the artist is the master — they may go in and do the eyes on a painting, because that's what they really do well, and that's one of the hardest things to get right. They might do the hands or the hair.

"And even now, you think about somebody like [British artist] Damien Hurst. Well, nobody really questions the fact that [Hurst] is running a studio. ... Everything is still happening entirely under Chihuly's vision. So what he does, is he makes [the paintings]. This is Chihuly's hand on these. And these kinds of images show the basis and the vision for what happens in the glass pieces."

And here's another surprise: Chihuly jibes well with the rest of the FAC collection and its history. According to Milteer, the "organic, almost biological" forms of the glass echo the museum's Southwestern art, its abstracts, and even the natural surroundings of the Springs at large. What the FAC did with Birger Sandzén, Charles Bunnell and Floyd Tunson, Milteer says, it's doing with Chihuly.

"The promise of the expansion, of these new galleries, was built upon that [2005] Chihuly show," Milteer says, "because I think that showed what this place could really do. ... It really showed the intensity that could happen here, and one of the significant things about this show is for the first time, in the new galleries that that program inspired, we're able to give it a dedicated exhibition to this work."

edie@csindy.com

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