With works spread across 15 countries, 42 U.S. states and 200-plus museums, Dale Chihuly is to glass art as Fernando Botero is to bloated sculpture — the undisputed godfather.
As widely known and regarded as the contemporary artist is, though — and some stiff souls even suffer from Chihuly glass fatigue — we realize many folks have yet to gaze upon his crystalline goodies and get caught up in the magnificently molded mystique. Truly, in person, people are almost universally moved by it.
To use crude "for-beginners" terms, here's what you really need to know: Chihuly's a 72-year-old guy from Tacoma, Wash. He's widely recognized by an eye patch worn due to windshield glass blinding him during a car accident (cruelest of irony). He hosts blowout exhibitions that transform landscapes and museum corridors alike into stunning, surreal spaces. He produces Pollock-esque acrylic paint drawings via squeeze bottles to inform glass designs, such as fantastically frazzled looking, squid-like chandeliers and macchias, which are fun, giant bowls that might make viewers think of anything from wavy clamshell lips to a nacho hat fit for Poseidon himself.
"You don't need an art degree to appreciate it," says FAC communications director Warren Epstein, speaking to the work's easy popularity.
Museum director Blake Milteer concurs, adding that "if you want to dig deeper, the stuff is there. But if you want to have a purely aesthetic experience, that's there, too."
The best of both worlds, as art enjoyment and criticism go. And of the many places in the world to view the superlative sand on display, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has formed a unique relationship with the artist via its relatively prolific acquisitions. Here's a look at a formative decade of Chihuly in the Springs:
• June 2004: An art-glass chandelier from Chihuly's famed 1996 Venice show is purchased and unveiled. (The piece hangs in the FAC entryway.) Former Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Hoving lectures on "The Cool, Fiery Genius of Dale Chihuly."
• April-August 2005: Chihuly at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center presents a timeline of the artist's work, ranging from early blown-glass experimentation via "cylinders" to his "basket" series and grand glass shapings inspired by sea forms and wildlife. The blockbuster attracts 80,000-plus visitors, becoming the most successful art show ever in southern Colorado. Membership triples, ushering in a grand new era of expansion at the museum, which culminates in a $30 million upgrade that adds around 30,000 square feet of gallery space. During the exhibition, "The Gilded Sapphire Chandelier" is installed in the Deco Lounge, becoming a showpiece at theater intermissions. (Like the Dude's rug in The Big Lebowski, it really ties the room together.)
• September 2006-January 2007: Dale Chihuly: New Works from the Fine Arts Center Collection shows at the interim FAC Modern gallery downtown, highlighting $1.5 million worth of recently purchased Chihuly works, 46 pieces in all. Some of the FAC's Navajo
blankets, baskets and other objects are displayed next to Chihuly's glass and drawings to "amplify certain aspects of Native American design, color, pattern," showing "a contemporary artist drawing on an indigenous form in this unusual medium of glass," in the words of then-director Michael DeMarsche.
• August 2007: Chihuly pieces help kick off the grand re-opening of the FAC's Dale Street facility, including the newly purchased "Orange Hornet Chandelier," originally shown in Venice in 1993, briefly displayed at the FAC Modern, then redesigned and expanded to its current size as a site-specific tribute to the museum's expansion.
• 2007-present: Chihuly chandeliers remain a constant attraction, while other works by the artist rotate through display as part of the museum's permanent collection.