/ 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.

    / / COMMENTS

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    1. I saw a Chihuly exhibit when it was here in Virginia Beach a few years ago. I agree with the general awesomeness of seeing the pieces closeup. I found myself walking around with my hands in my pockets so that I wouldn’t “accidentally” reach out and touch.

    2. I wonder if he agrees to replace broken work?  When he had a big show here in Minneapolis there was one room where the pieces were all suspended on glass plates above your head, and I just had to lie down to look.  I was very pleased that the guards were supportive.  By the time I left that room there were several more people lying on the floor to look too.

    3. I agree that photography should be allowed and it is nice to hear the artist say it. I visited the Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh and was astonished to find out that I couldn’t take pictures, especially since replication is how he built his fortune! If ol’ Andy could see what these curators are doing today…

      1. Warhol wouldn’t be too happy about the way Pittsburgh has wrapped itself around him in the first place, I imagine. He didn’t exactly like it here. Also, the Warhol museum is very shit, and is the least of the Carnegie museums. It’s also the one that’s the biggest financial loss for the system. I’m a member and I kinda wish it weren’t in the network.

        1. Your opinion about the Warhol being shit is your to keep, but you are dead wrong about it losing money.  It *used* to be a drain on the Carnegie system when it first joined, but now the traveling shows bring in a lot of money. The Warhol actually supports other museums in the system so as a member, you should want it in the network.

    4. I live here in Richmond, and I am so massively disappointed there wasn’t some kind of BB Meetup of some crazy kind. The VMFA is a wonderful feature of our city and I loved the exhibit. It’s a shame I didn’t randomly go to the VMFA today and get to bump into Xeni while visting.

    5. I love his work.  A photo I took at the 2008 exhibition at the De Young of his Mille Fiori has been my iphone screen lock background for the last four years – many people who see it have commented on it and I’ve talked about him often!s

    6. He’s no idiot when it comes to self promotion. That would be like Apple telling you you couldn’t Tweet and FB about your new iDevice as you buy it in the Apple store.

      1. then why did they waste so much energy keeping people from live blogging there press conferences for so many years?

        1. Because they are the ultimate control freaks. And they wanted the live event to carry some sort of exclusivity to attract more big names to it? Like a special party that “everybody” wants to go to. And maybe Steve had a huge phobia about something not going right (device malfunction etc.) and the idea of that being out there live and recorded kept him up at night.

    7. I went to the Dallas Arboretum last weekend with my in-laws and saw Chihuly’s exhibit there.  Quite good, despite the heat this past weekend. 

      And they’ve just extended the exhibition till the end of the year if anyone in Texas is curious about Chihuly…

    8. http://seattletimes.com/html/chihulyinc/2003182065_chihuly08.html

      Just imagine if the first Impressionist had kept any others from copying their style… If he is truly an artist, his art will be there regardless of the medium being used by others. Is he afraid someone might start to do it better than his workers?


      Sorry, not meaning to rain on the parade, I actually love to look at much of his work. But BB has always struck me as being about looking deeper at the issues. 

      And of course here in Seattle we get to enjoy his permanent store.. um, I mean MUSEUM.  

      1.  That’s really depressing. I’m living in Richmond now, and was looking forward to seeing the show. I still am, but that kind of artistic bullying leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

        1. Is it free? Then go! That’s one thing about being so close to home base, there are many places that have his work in public places. There is a great chandelier on campus at Gonzaga in Spokane that I always enjoyed looking at. When I first moved to Seattle, I spent a year installing cable for Comcast. They took over one of the few high-rise condos on First Hill. It had been there for years and so had many elite Seattlites, with fewer units per floor as you went up, and of course Chihuly glass was all the rage. The top two floors (with rooftop pool) were owned by the Benaroyas. BIG seattle name long before the tech boom. I never saw that floor, but the 31st floor was all one condo owned by some media mogul’s widow. As you went up in floors the pieces of glass on display in each condo got bigger and more numerous. The gal on the 31st floor had a whole wall of glass, many Chihuly, as you walked in from the private lobby on her floor.

    9. From what I’ve observed, glass artists tend to be fairly Zen about breakage. It’s the nature of working with glass. I’ve watched artists put in a lot of time working on a piece only to have it shatter as they’re transferring it to the cooling kiln.

      1.  Considering that his largest permanent work is at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, he had better be prepared for breakage.

        Actually I think that one is hard to reach out and touch, but the idea of a 43-foot high glass sculpture at a children’s museum brings up all sorts of ideas of catastrophe.

    10. Looks beautiful! And I love that VMFA is getting such great collections and attention… Grew up in The Fan, so I was within walking distance of the museum and used to go check out the exhibits with my folks quite a bit as a kid. Its quite an incredible collection and the updated design of the museum is absolutely stunning. Definitely a must-see for anyone visiting Richmond or even just passing through. 

    11. Check the new Chihuly museum near the Space Needle next time you’re in Seattle.

      Were any/all of these taken with HDR on?

    12. There’s a documentary on one of his exhibitions where they float the finished glass units down a river.

    13. I remember when Chihuly came to a museum near me. I was actually somewhat frustrated with the photo takers because[1] they seemed so involved with taking pictures, it felt that they weren’t really *looking* at the art. Just click, click, click- not a single pause to reflect.

      [1]Their flashes also kept going off every five seconds and they’d stand right in the middle of the foot traffic to take shots. But that’s just bad picture-taking etiquette as opposed to having anything to do with issues of photography in museums.

        1. Yeah, I know. But that’s sort of what art museums are for. It’s like going to a baseball game to only eat peanuts.

      1. I would feel quite comfortable making the argument that Kinkade is, par excellence, the Kinkade of the art world.

      2. The guy likes to make eye candy, he’s good at it, and working in glass takes time and skill. If he’s running an assembly line, cranking out copies by the thousands and milking distributors for all they’re worth you might have a point.

        But I don’t think so.

        Encouraging photography of his work is a smart move… this stuff is simply fun to look at and gets more interesting to me the longer I look.

        1. From what i understand, he doesn’t actually make anything anymore. Isnt he blind in one eye, and just tells young artists how to blow and twirl the glass? warhol style?

          1.  yeah, or sometimes he just scribbles shit on the ground with chalk and walks away–I have friends who have worked as gaffers in his studios, they laugh about it.  I was a glass blowing major at university, and I spent a week with an eye patch on blowing glass, no issues.

            1. Interesting, thanks for that info. While the work is beautiful, I also heard he is quite a dick to women. 

          2. He lost his eye in a car accident, but kept doing glass work after that.  He quit blowing glass after he dislocated his shoulder in another accident and at that point moved to directing other glassblowers.

    14. Contemporary glass artists are conflicted about Chihuly.  On the one hand, he has done a lot for the medium, and is almost single-handedly responsible for the depth of skill within North America – as he brought great artisans from overseas and founded a prominent school near Seattle.  All successful blowers owe a certain debt to him.  On the other hand, he is “running an assembly line, cranking out copies by the thousands”, while not paying his blowers particularly well.  His work relies heavily on the mysteriousness of glass, taking advantage of the publics lack of understanding regarding the material (rather than any sort of insight or exemplary creativity), while using techniques that are in fact quite simple and conventional to a competent blower, non of which are original nor developed by him or his team.  His work at this point, only represents the resources at his disposal that are necessary to create it.

      1. These criticisms are often true for successful popularizers. They work with what they have, and are not content with purist obscurity. As far as I’m concerned, Chiluly is doing it well, by not sinking into schlock. 

      2. Thanks. This articulates so clearly my problems with his work. Folks were going nuts over his exhibit at the MFA in Boston and it just left me cold. (Especially his stuff inspired by Native American baskets. Euugh!). It feels like fancy shopping mall art to me.

    15. Photography of VMFA’s permanent galleries is ALWAYS allowed, provided you don’t use flash. Restrictions on photography is only on special exhibitions and some loans and those terms are set by the lenders themselves. Just an FYI….

      1. The same was true with pretty much every major Italian artist of the Renaissance era.

        So what’s your point?

    16. His installations are awesome.  I was lucky enough to run across a Columbus, Ohio show about 15 years ago.  I’m sure someone will correct that timing.

    17. Slapping one’s name on the work of others is often the criticism made of senior researchers on the author’s list in scientific papers. The guy who got the grant gets his (usually a he) name at the top. The other researchers, post docs, and graduate students who often put in the work get lesser mention. – But there is a fine old tradition of learning in the master’s workshop in art. Where the pupil learns eye and hand of the teacher. Has this relationship been exploited for centuries? Yes, it has. And as we have let ourselves be led down the happy lane of the value of so-called intellectual property, we have begun to place great emphasis on the thoughts of the great wo/man who has many of the same ideas as anyone else working in the medium. However, the great one is salable  and that’s that in the market place.

      For an interesting additional bit of information do a short side trip into Harvey Littleton. It was Littleton who took glass from a curiosity to an art medium. Chihuly was a student of Littleton’s. 

    18. It’s sad that Seattle Center took a free public space, and instead of improving it, turned it into this D-bag’s private vanity space. Why so harsh? It’s $26 for an adult!!! And they don’t have the one free Thursday a month that pretty much every other museum in the Seattle-Tacoma area has. Even the brand new Auto Museum in Tacoma has a free Thursday evening once a month. And that is a private collection that the owner had to BUY, not a bunch of glass he made for pennies on what it’s “valued” at. It’s a tourist trap like most of the Space Needle attractions. One year the Space Needle actually sold year long passes that were super reasonable. $30 for one year, and every time you visited you could take someone with you. Two people normally cost about $30 for a one time visit! It really attracted locals who then would then bring visiting friends, which was more traffic through the gift shop. Plus it made it feasible for a bunch of friends to go up there on a Friday night for a few drinks. Every year the passes got more expensive and restrictive (4 companion passes a year instead of unlimited). Haven’t had one for a number of years.

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