American artist Dale Chihuly creates magic. Combining sand with fire, Chihuly creates monumental glass sculptures large enough to fill rooms. These pieces become backdrops for colour and light to dance and mingle resulting in a dazzling and awe-inspiring visual experience. Chihuly’s glass masterpieces have caught the attention of people across the globe, from his installations in Jerusalem and Venice to exhibits in Las Vegas, and he is the only living artist to have been featured at the famed Louvre in Paris in the 20th Century.
Fortunately for Torontonians, you don’t need to fly around the world to see his magnificent work. Featured at the Royal Ontario Museum until January 2, 2017, you can see Chihuly’s installation for yourself. Bring your camera to capture the experience and prepare to be stunned speechless.
It’s not often you find experiences where guests are not only welcome but are actually encouraged to photograph, but that is the case with the Chihuly Exhibit at the ROM. When discussing fine works of art, words can only do so much as, in this case, in particular, the saying is true – seeing is believing. Chihuly describes glass as captured light and that is the essence of his work. With expertly blown and sculpted glass in various textures, thicknesses, and opaqueness, in a whole rainbow of vivid colours and with concentrated light angled at the piece at precisely the right way, Chihuly has created works that practically come to life. His pieces stimulate the mind and encourage the viewer to stop and absorb the experience, slowly seeing new nuances and hidden discoveries within the piece the more you look. It is incredibly easy to get lost in his work.
The Chihuly exhibit at the ROM begins with water. Chihuly fell in love with the idea that glass has the appearance of liquid caught in motion; that the light that played through glass looked like the rippling sunlight shining through the sea. With that in mind, he created an aquatic wonderland filled with coral, seaweed, and various forms of realistic marine life that are truly mind blowing. This piece still stands as my favourite of the whole exhibit.
From that point on, the exhibit looks at the elements that inspire Chihuly’s work with glass from flexible neon tubing to crystal shards. His sturdy and impressively tall Red Reed series look like massive candles. His spiked ball chandeliers in red and yellow are eye-catching; the tall conical blue-green icicle piece looks like the kind of artistic avant-garde Christmas tree that would be a dream to own and display. A trellis of orange and red glass flowers in bloom is a sumptuous display to walk through and explore.
Another personal favourite was the glass ceiling – the room in question is equipped with comfy couches and beanbag chairs that encourage lounging as you look up at the ceiling above you. The glass ceiling is filled with a multitude of glass baubles of different shapes all bursting with colour and light. Feel free to take your time to sit there, staring up at the ceiling allowing your eyes and mind to wander as you explore each and every piece kept up there. Take out your cameras, as this is the optimal place for a selfie.
Another room in the installation features Chihuly’s work inspired by Native American textiles – a series of cylinders and baskets with fine and intricate lines of glass laced into them similar to the patterns in the textiles. The fine detailing here is masterful.
Near the end of the exhibit is a video detailing Chihuly’s life and accomplishments and illustrating his process in creating these impressive works. That is something I would have liked to have seen more of in the installation rather than just captured in a video in the end – photos and highlights of his works in process, as often that can be just as interesting as the final result. The video showcased some of the more intricate large-scale architectural works he’s done around the world and it would have been great to see even pieces of those in this exhibit. I guess I’m just being greedy here in saying I want to see more.
Finally, there’s the Chihuly dedicated gift shop where you can buy merchandise inspired by his works. Glass jewellery is available from other local artisans as Chihuly does not make wearable pieces. However, he does have a few small pieces that are available for purchase if you have an extra $10,000 to spare.
The Chihuly Exhibit at the ROM closes in the New Year meaning there is still plenty of time to go and see this for yourself. Bring your friends and family; bring anyone that may be visiting you from out of town over the holidays. Let this installation dazzle and inspire them as it already has for many Torontonians since its debut.
Entrance to the Chihuly Exhibit includes access to the ROM’s permanent collection of world cultures and natural history. Tickets are $29 for adults, $26.50 for students ages 15-25 with valid student ID and seniors 65+, $21 for children ages 4-14 and free for children under the age of 3.
Review and Photos by Samantha Wu