Glass Fantasy: Chihuly Illuminates the Royal Ontario Museum

Mike Crisolago | June 24th, 2016

Persian Ceiling, by Dale Chihuly

“I want people to be overwhelmed with light and colour in a way they’ve never experienced before.” – Dale Chihuly

In Chihuly, the latest major offering from the Royal Ontario Museum – and without doubt the most colourful in recent memory – the sculptures of glass and light speak for themselves, not with a whisper but a proclamation: “This,” they declare via their intricate designs, mind-bending shapes, vibrant hues and breadth of subject matter, “is what a master artist is capable of creating.”

It’s a good thing the art speaks volumes because the master himself is a man of few words. Dale Chihuly, 74, was vetted by museum officials and dignitaries this morning at the ROM in downtown Toronto, including US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, ROM Director and CEO Josh Bassesches and guest curator Diane Charbonneau. Following their glowing praise the Chihuly himself took the microphone.

“It’s a great honour to be here,” he said, “and I’d like to thank everybody involved.”

Then he returned to his chair as the assembled crowd, many of whom were still adjusting their smartphone cameras to shoot him, quickly regrouped and offered applause. After all, as the saying (sort of) goes, “An illuminating glass sculpture is worth a thousand words.”

Chihuly, born in 1941 in Tacoma, Wash., is, of course, the master of blown glass. Originally inclined to follow his passion for interior design, in the mid-1960s Chihuly shifted course and began studying the craft that would make him famous the world over. In 1968 he became the first American to ever work in Venice’s Venini glass factory in Murano before establishing himself as a teacher and pioneering avant-garde glass artist back in the U.S. Since then Chihuly’s breathtaking glass sculptures have hung over Venice’s Grand Canal, graced the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem and appeared in public spaces and major galleries around the globe. It’s a feat that makes it even more impressive that the artist created some works specifically for the ROM show.

Click through the pages that follow to see some of the brilliant works of glass and light that make the ROM’s Chihuly one of the most astonishing and beautiful installations you’ll see in any gallery this year.

CHIHULY is on at the Royal Ontario Museum from June 25, 2016-January 2, 2017. For more information on the exhibit and related events, visit www.rom.on.ca.

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Laguna Torcello

Laguna Torcello creates an intricate garden of glass. Introduced in 2012, this is part of Chihuly’s long-standing series, Mille Fiori (“thousand flowers” in Italian). Visitors can stroll around this garden, taking in an outstanding range of Chihuly’s forms. The installation’s name references a lagoon island in Venice, Italy, the artist’s favourite place in the world, and pays respect to that city’s glass-makers.

(Exhibit description courtesy the Royal Ontario Museum; photo by Mike Crisolago)

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Some of the creatures living in Chihuly’s Laguna Torcello.

(Photo by Mike Crisolago)

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Persian Trellis

Persian Trellis, created specifically for the ROM, features Chihuly’s Persians. From their 1986 origins, the making of these forms involves blowing glass to produce a herringbone pattern. Striking arrangements of them can be mounted anywhere—including on ceilings, in wall displays, on chandeliers or, in this instance, mounted on a large wooden trellis framework, allowing visitors to walk through to enjoy the artwork from a number of angles.

(Exhibit description courtesy the Royal Ontario Museum; photo by Mike Crisolago)

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Persian Ceiling

Persian Ceiling stands as one of Chihuly’s most popular and enduring works. Brightly coloured Persians dominate, arranged in layers over plate glass, while many of the artist’s hallmark elements also appear in this installation. Subtle lighting ensures the ceiling creates a colourful kaleidoscopic effect.

(Exhibit description courtesy the Royal Ontario Museum; photo by Mike Crisolago)

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Two weathered boats, Ikebana Boat and Float Boat are presented on a black Plexiglas surface. Chihuly first filled boats with his glass pieces in Nuutajärvi, Finland in June 1995 during the Chihuly over Venice project. At one point, Chihuly began tossing glass elements into the river, allowing them to float downstream. As local teenagers in small wooden rowboats gathered the pieces, the artist recognized the opportunity for a new installation.

(Exhibit description courtesy the Royal Ontario Museum; photo by Mike Crisolago)

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The colourful cargo contained in Chihuly’s second boat on display at the ROM.

(Photo by Mike Crisolago)

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Red Reeds on Logs are presented atop a cascading composition of Ontario-sourced white birch logs. First created in 1995, this series is brilliant on many levels but especially for Chihuly’s use of materials giving strong contrasts between colours, densities, and textures. Incredibly, some of the reeds reach three metres long, his glassblowers achieving this by pulling the hot molten glass downwards from a mechanical lift.

(Exhibit description courtesy the Royal Ontario Museum; photo by Mike Crisolago)

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Icicle Chandeliers

Icicle Chandeliers and Towers display two forms that complement each other like cave stalagmites and stalactites. Chihuly began his Chandeliers series in 1992, achieving great massing of colour by taking hundreds of pieces of blown glass, assembling them around sturdy steel frameworks, and lighting them from external sources. His Towers followed soon after as an upside-down version. This installation comprises two chandeliers and two towers. The artist, choosing icicles as a unifying theme, has created a wholly new triple tower.