Recently, I had the good fortune to visit my old stomping grounds, San Francisco. I dragged my friends to that fair city-by-the-bay for a very special showing of world-renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly. It was held at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.
The de Young holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first museum I ever visited, in elementary school. We saw a Picasso exhibit, and I remember buying many post cards of his Peace Dove series. (The doves, interpreted by a friend, later adorned my bedroom wall.)
I had visited Chihuly’s studio in Tacoma, Washington, as well as seeing installations of single works in London and Las Vegas, but never in an actual museum with so many pieces displayed. (After doing some research, I’ve since learned that this is his largest exhibit ever… Chihulypalooza!) I knew we were in for a treat, and assured my companions of this. We were not disappointed.
The hall was dark, the ceiling dropped low, and we entered another world. There were suggestions of sea creatures, mind-bending forest foliage, baskets of glass, and Italian carnivale-inspired gondolas. There were chandeliers made up of thousands of tiny tendrils of colored glass, seussian critters, and a spectacular fifty-six foot glass garden.
I spoke with one of the museum officials who told me that this particular exhibit, consisting of tens-of-thousands of pieces of glass was shipped in 15 containers, and took a dozen installation technicians two weeks of ten-hour days to construct. And while Chihuly himself supervises all the set-up and lighting, the exhibits never look the same once disassembled and moved to their new location.
The last steps of the showing took visitors into a small white-walled room with a transparent glass ceiling, stacked with more of Chihuly’s fanciful colored shapes. Lights show through the ceiling, creating glorious color-plays on the blank canvassed walls.
Chihuly has his critics, but don’t count me as one of them. I find his pieces inspiring and dramatic. And this was a wonderful return to the de Young for this child-at-heart. And of course, I came home with more postcards.