Wednesday, October 17, 2012

If It Feels Good, Do It

I wouldn't have missed Italy for the world, but I sure did miss plenty while I was there.

The Folk Festival. Philip Glass speaking at UR. Jens Lekman at the National. The 2 Street festival. The Listening Room.

And that's just the obvious stuff.

Fortunately I was back in time for today's tour of  the new Chihuly exhibit at the VMFA led by, wait for it, Dale Chihuly himself.

I mean, the artist walked into a roomful of chattering people and a hush fell over the room.

And why not? He is the man responsible for  taking glass from a craft to an art form.

Personally, the first thing I noticed about him was his neon splattered shoes.

He is a very big deal, so getting to see the new exhibit as he talked about it was a very big deal too.

"Fiori and Floats" was a tribute to Venice and his 1996 project where he draped his massive glass chandeliers over Venice's canals.

Here, rustic boats were filled with his glass forms, some spherical and others resembling marine life with tentacles.

"Persian Ceiling" was 1,000 pieces of glass, bowl-like, curved, brightly colored, suspended over our heads.

We were invited to lay down and look at it from the floor, but no one I asked would do it with me.

In the next gallery, glass pieces were mixed with Pendleton blankets, vintage photographs and Indian baskets, with many laid out on a 22' wooden table.

"Laguna Torcello" was a glass wonderland and Chihuly said it had been inspired by Venetian lagoons and that they "happen to be my favorite place in the world."

The influence of sea life was clear and when questioned about how he created them, the artist answered, "When I build them, I just put whatever feels good inside."

He told  a funny story of having installed a similarly complicated piece in the White House and when Hillary strolled by, she inquired if he numbered his pieces.

"Do I look like the kind of guy who numbers pieces?" he laughed, as did the roomful of people.

He expressed his passion for neon as we walked by his blue neon tumbleweed, saying he always works with the best sign makers he can find because they are the neon experts.

The final gallery housed "Reeds on Logs," a collection of 200 spear-like forms (similar to the red reeds in the VMFA's reflecting pool) in various shades of blue resting in pieces of salvaged old-growth cedar.

Stunning doesn't begin to describe it.

When we finished, Chihuly graciously took questions.

He recalled selling three pieces to the Metropolitan Museum having given him "a lot of confidence."

The Blue Ridge chandelier that now hangs where the golden hare used to be leaping, he said, was blown especially for this show.

"It's not a new idea," he explained, "But it is a new piece."

Naturally he was asked about advice for young artists.

"By far the best thing is to be around an artist, sweeping the floor or helping build sculptures," he advised. "And have a studio to work in. If you can't afford a studio and an apartment, rent a studio and live there."

He admitted he doesn't blow glass much anymore ("I like to think I have some of the best glass blowers in the world"), but said every once in a while, he goes in and blows for a day.

Proudly he told the audience that there are more glass blowers in Seattle than in Venice today.

"I love the way light comes through glass," he said. "And the fluidity of it. It's like working with water."

After that admission, the man was finished with us.

"Alright, shall we call it a day?" he said in closing.

Let's call it three and a half exquisite months of mind-blowing glass at the VMFA.

Let's call us impossible lucky to have Chihuly in RVA.

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