/ Xeni Jardin / 1 pm Thu, Oct 25 2012
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  • Dale Chihuly at VMFA, and photography and accessibility of art

    Dale Chihuly at VMFA, and photography and accessibility of art

    I visited a new Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA today. A guard told me that while photography is generally prohibited in the museum, Chihuly explicitly demands photography of his work be allowed, and that there be no physical barriers between visitors and the glass creations. This desire for accessibility and openness made me appreciate his work in a new way. Here are some snapshots I took of the show. My mom used to work at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA. I am in town today visiting, so we took a quick trip to the museum to check out the beautiful new building (completed in 2010), and a current show of the über-famous, über-promoted Dale Chihuly, whom I used to mock as the Thomas Kinkade of glass. You know what? That was unfair. His work is so beautiful when you're surrounded by it up close, and while I'd seen individual works before, I hadn't seen it like this. I get it now.

    This show includes work from the eighties through the twenty-teens, and a site-specific "Mille Fiori" installation called Laguna Torcello that is the largest platform installation every assembled by the artist.

    I am testing out a new iPhone 5, and shot some pictures to share with everyone on Boing Boing. I'm digging how it handles low-light and high-color-saturation environments, and this is certainly one of them.

    Apart from how beautiful the exhibition is, and how beautifully lit and presented everything is, I wanted to share a little conversation we had with one of the guards.

    The museum's policy is generally to prohibit all photography, and to create physical boundaries between the public and 3-dimensional works in shows like this.

    A guard told us today that Chihuly explicitly demands in his contract that all photography (except flash use) must be allowed, and arranged things so that this work—remember, it's glass, folks!—would be presented naked, not behind guard rails or velvet ropes or barriers of any kind.

    It's so accessible that I felt a little nervous, and wondered how inevitable it was that some clumsy visitor would drop a purse or bang into something, shattering hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars worth of art.

    Apart from the guards, however, the only real barrier was an electric sensor in a few places that made an annoying sound when people got too close to one of the works.

    Anyway, this attitude of openness and accessibility seemed rare for an artist in that kind of space. It made me respect and appreciate Chihuly in a new way. Yes, of course, people snapshotting and sharing his work serves to promote it further. But not every artist, and not every institution, recognizes this.

    The show's great. Check it out if you're in the area before February, 2013. Don't miss the "reeds" in the water garden outside of the café.

    Chihuly at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Oct 20, 2012—Feb 10, 2013.

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