Dale Chihuly returns to Desert Botanical Garden this week in the form of "Chihuly in the Garden," a highly anticipated exhibition of his signature hand-blown glass sculptures. His 12th garden exhibition, and second in the Valley, is installed throughout 55 acres of the 140-acre garden, with the landscape as a color palette for each unique creation.
The world-renowned artist is credited for breathing (literally) new life into the studio glass movement, having studied at university programs across the county and blowing glass at the Venini glass factory in Venice, Italy. His collections are as well traveled as he is, from "Chihuly over Venice" to "Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem," and his first stop in Phoenix for "Chihuly: The Nature of Glass."
It was a relationship perhaps akin to a whirlwind love affair. From November 2008 through the end of May 2009, the Garden hosted its first -- but clearly not its last -- Chihuly exhibition to rave reviews and an incredible amount of foot traffic.
When he talks about it five years later, executive director Ken Schutz favors the adjective "wonderful," calling the exhibition a "wonderful run" and comparing it to being in retail where every day was similar to a being in a big-box store on Black Friday. Phoenicians flooded the Garden to study the intricate details of Chihuly's large, fully formed sculptures and experience the Garden as a work of art.
They'll have a chance to do much of the same this year with three daily tour options: 8 a.m. to noon, noon to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Schutz anticipates the evening tours to be the most popular, calling the experience three shows in one: a traditional daylight tour, a chance to catch the installations against a desert sunset, and to see them illuminated by carefully considered lighting -- a different art show in itself.
The 21 installations, grandiose in scale but detailed in design, arrived piece by piece in six 53-foot-long containers in late October. The glass is blown and initially created at the Chihuly Studio in Tacoma, Washington, then disassembled and shipped, only to be reconstructed -- without written instruction -- by those same studio workers at gardens and public galleries around the world. In this way, though the idea remains intact and the work precise, the re-creation can never be exact.
"The general aesthetic is each piece will never come together the same way at the same time," says Britt Cornett, head of exhibitions at Chihuly Studio, calling the process truly organic.
Which is important to consider, since a number of the glass pieces were designed years, some even decades, prior to arriving in the desert.
The anchor of the exhibition, Sapphire Star, created in 2010, contains 720 spires ranging from deep blue to color-free and stands 10 feet wide by 10 feet high. Its place at the entrance was a nod to the Garden's 75th anniversary year, Cornett says. Just beyond its pointed head is a piece from this year, Blue Fiori Sun, mimicking its neighbor in prominence and color.
The collection covers nearly every genre of Chihuly creation. Hues of pinks and purples dot the desert landscape where his reeds are placed along pathways to the Garden's points of interest, while four- and five-foot spears of deep green blend in surprisingly well amongst the cacti and grass.
The eye-popping Summer Sun, similar to pieces once on display in Italy and at the New York Botanical Garden, is built from 2,000 individual hand-blown pieces in red, yellow, and orange, creating a piece weighing well over 2,500 pounds. Though many of the pieces play with the desert landscape and were inspired by its colors, it's safe to assume that standing out, as Summer Sun does, is equally as captivating.
Desert Neon, a collection of 26 five-by-10 panels, was created in 1993. The red and green panels, which used to illuminate his studio in Seattle over the holidays, now color the desert above the Garden -- even able to be seen by commuters on the nearby thoroughfares.
Today, more than 200 museums and public spaces boast permanent Chihuly collections, including ceiling installations at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a chandelier at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and "Desert Towers" at the Garden -- remnants of the 2008-2009 exhibition.
The admission prices range from $10 for children to $22 for adults, with member discounts available. Slower days tend to be Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but reservations are highly encouraged for any of the three tour times.
"Chihuly in the Garden" will remain open through Sunday, May 18, 2014. Visit www.chihuly.dbg.org for more information and reservations.
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