Atlanta Botanical Garden

Dale Chihuly’s Glass Sculptures Illuminate The Atlanta Botanical Garden

In Dale Chihuly’s new exhibition at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, trees are made of glass and glass is made into trees. “Chihuly in the Garden” consists of 19 of installation pieces arranged within the gardens. The works blend into their surroundings, but they also jut out of them, presenting a compelling conversation between nature and art.

Chihuly is an American artist famous for his monumental glass sculptures in different shapes, colors, and sizes. His works are at once highly artificial and natural, many of which are inspired by plants and nature. The artist has a long history of creating large scale exhibitions internationally in Montreal, Venice, and San Francisco. One of the highlights of his career was his exhibition “Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem,” in 2000.

chihuly atlantic botanical garden

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Chihuly, 75, was born in Tacoma, Washington. He was first exposed to glass blowing through his work studying interior design at the University of Washington. Later on, he moved to study at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI, where he founded and taught their signature glass blowing program. 

After he had graduated, Chihuly received a Fulbright to study glass blowing in Venice, a city famous for their glass blowing. (To this day, Venice hosts demos for tourists who travel worldwide to see their glass blowing techniques. The city is filled with trinkets made from glass, from necklaces to candle holders.) But Chihuly’s work extends the category of glass blowing as a craft to installations and sculptural art that strike a contrast to (but somehow still compliment) the natural surroundings they are placed in.

Sol del Citrón, one of the pieces in “Chihuly in the Garden,” is a humungous tree-like sculpture made from curled pieces of glass. Surrounded by trees, it’s almost a comic imitation of them, too round to emulate nature, but too similar not to echo it. The colors are lime greens and yellows, lighter than their surroundings. Like most of his work, Chihuly’s exhibition in Atlanta focuses on how outdoor sculpture can integrate with and compliment nature.

chihuly atlantic botanical garden

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Another one of Chihuly’s iconic works, “Maccia Flowers,” appeared in the greenhouse of the New York Botanical Garden in 2006. Chihuly began the Maccia series in 1981, “with the desire to use all 300 colors in his hotshop, and named the series after asking his friend Italo Scanga the word for ‘spot’ in Italian.” The sculptures look like huge, open, colorful flowers. To achieve this polka dot effect, he rolled the glass in shards of colored glass during the blowing process. The monumental forms create a compelling paradox between the grand and the delicate. “Glass is very durable, but it’s also fragile and can break at any moment,” Chihuly has said. “I’ve always tried to push the medium as far as I could in terms of shape and scale.”

The Denver Business Journal reported that in 2014, 1.4 million people visited the Denver Botanical Garden to see Chihuly’s work on display, making it the highest attended public garden in North America.

Chihuly has created all kinds of works with glass blowing, including chandeliers, baskets, sea forms, and cylinders, and yet he also has a long history of creating pieces for public gardens. The Denver Business Journal reported that in 2014, 1.4 million people visited the Denver Botanical Garden to see Chihuly’s work on display, making it the highest attended public garden in North America. It’s remarkable how in both reflecting and deviating from nature, these works revert attention back to it.

chihuly atlantic botanical garden

Atlanta Botanical Garden

In an age where art leans toward the conceptual and abstract, Chihuly’s work is a fresh contrast in that it’s so visceral. Its popularity, and ability to attract new audiences to public gardens raises important questions about nature and our relationship to it. Chihuly is recognized for bringing the glass blowing medium to life as an art form. We’re used to glass as a material for cups, plates and other utilitarian objects, but what about art? What I find most compelling about “Chihuly in the Garden” is how manmade works inspired by nature ultimately generate more interest in nature itself.

“Chihuly in the Garden” will be on display in the Atlanta Botanical Garden until October 30. The garden also features “Chilhuly Nights,” wherein the sculptures on display are illuminated during the evening. He’s scheduled to have an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden in April of 2017.

For more information on “Chihuly in the Garden”, visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s website.

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