A major new exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden features enormous glass installations installed across the 250-acre garden and a gallery of early drawings and paintings, all by Dale Chihuly.
Taken together, the show, titled simply “Chihuly,” reveals the evolution of the glass artist’s work from 1980 to the present.
“The garden has grown a lot since 2006,” a slightly jet-lagged Chihuly, 75, said recently. Just off a flight from Venice, where he studied as a young man, he noted that this exhibit is much larger and more expansive than the one held at the botanical garden a decade ago.
“I was particularly inspired by the native plant garden and made new works to show there,” Chihuly said. “I’m also excited about the way the new neon work looks against the Conservatory and reflects in the pool.”
In the native plant garden floats a boat, “Float Boat” (2014), filled with a mountain of the Chihuly Studios’ glass spheres in various colors, patterns and sizes.
“Every installation throughout the exhibition was chosen with the specific site in mind,” Chihuly says.
The garden worked with Chihuly’s team over the past two years to cultivate groupings of plants to accompany the enormous installations, with attention to the plants’ color, shape and texture.
The sculptures, which tend to have organic shapes, seem to lend themselves to display in botanical gardens.
“A lot of work I do is nature-inspired or looks like it might come from nature, but I don’t look specifically at something to make it,” Chihuly explains. “I just sort of have a natural feeling for using glass — trying to take advantage of the color and transparency that glass offers, and the ability to work with this ancient material which is blown with human air, this magical material.”
The exhibit, which also features a series of jazz evenings with Chihuly’s glass structures dramatically illuminated, runs through Oct. 29. The garden is also featuring poetry readings and other events in conjunction with the show.
Greeting visitors along a pathway not far from the garden’s entrance is an enormous blue “Sapphire Star” (2017), resembling a huge dandelion or perhaps an exploding star in shades of blue, from a deep blue at the center to white at the tips of each spike. Not far away, the towering glass “Red Reeds on Logs,” installed above a small mountain of short logs, stuns with brilliant color and towering spiky forms.
Tucked inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory’s aquatic plants and vines gallery, a new interpretation of Chihuly’s “Macchia Forest” (2107) resembles giant, elevated, undulating bowl shapes in dazzling shades of orange, red, yellow and blue.
And in the Conservatory Courtyard, reflected dramatically in the Hardy pool, where koi laze in summer, is another new installation, “Neon 206” (2017), composed of 1,100 tubes imported from Italy, and then heated and bent into a colorful sculpture.
As a graduate student in the 1960s and a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, Chihuly was a pioneer in applying neon to his glass art. His neon work continued to evolve in the 1980s and ’90s, leading to his famous “Tumbleweed,” and later “Neon Tower,” featured in the 2006 exhibit at the botanical garden. “Neon 206” is one more step in that evolution.
Chihuly, from Tacoma, Washington, became interested in glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. He studied the art of glass at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and then the Rhode Island School of Design, where he taught for more than a decade. He studied at the Venini glass factory in Venice, and co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School, where he has helped develop glass as a fine art.
Chihuly’s works tend to be grouped into series, some of which are included in this show. Among his most famous are “Cylinders” and “Baskets” from the 1970s; “Seaforms,” ‘’Macchia,” ‘’Venetians” and “Persians,” from the 1980s; “Nijima Floats” and “Chandeliers,” from the 1990s; and “Fiori,” from the 2000s.
This show will not travel beyond New York, but a book, “Chihuly,” is being published by Delmonico Books (Prestel Publishing) in July.