Glass Fantasy: Chihuly Illuminates the Royal Ontario Museum
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.”
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.
Some of the creatures living in Chihuly’s Laguna Torcello.
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.
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.
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.
The colourful cargo contained in Chihuly’s second boat on display at the ROM.
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.