Anyone who's walked into the lobby of the Fine Arts Center and peered at its show-stopping chandelier knows the quality of work produced by famed artist Dale Chihuly. With glass components that twist wildly and colorfully from the base, it resembles a Medusa-like head of glossy, pastel snakes.
No doubt, Chihuly has taken glassblowing from the craft category and thrust it into the limelight.
The work of the 72-year-old is displayed in museums around the world. He's also been featured in massive installations, such as at the Citadel in Jerusalem in 1999 and above the canals of Venice in 1996.
"In the '70s, he was a significant part of the resuscitation of art forms that had, for a long time, been considered applied arts, craft in some cases," said Blake Milteer, FAC museum director and chief curator. "And for glass, Chihuly was the primary artist. He elevated that work to the level of fine art."
Chihuly is best known for the kaleidoscope of colors he chooses and the immersive quality of his installations.
"We all are responsive to walking through an amazingly beautiful space," Milteer said, "and that's what Chihuly is all about - creating those kinds of experiences."
"Chihuly Rediscovered" opens to the public at the FAC on Saturday and runs through Sept. 28.
Play it again, Chihuly
In 2005, the Fine Arts Center opened a Chihuly show that attracted more than 70,000 visitors.
"The exhibit was not just the most popular exhibit we've ever had," said Warren Epstein, communications director at the FAC, "but it was the most popular exhibit in the Pikes Peak region."
Museum staff has wanted to host another one for quite some time, Milteer said, and the timing is ideal as the Denver Botanic Gardens will open its own Chihuly exhibit, "Chihuly," on June 14. A ticket purchased for either show includes a $5 discount at the other. Chihuly will speak during the exhibit's opening day in Denver, though the lecture is sold out.
The upcoming FAC show differs from the one in 2005, which mostly featured works on loan from Chihuly's studios. This time there will be more than 50 pieces from the museum's own collection of about 60 pieces. There also will be 12 pieces on loan from a handful of private collectors in the region.
"There will be lots of things that haven't been on display for a while," said Epstein, "and it will be put together in a very dramatic way. All the lights will be off. It gives the sense that the pieces have their own inner luminescence."
The exhibit includes the handblown glass of the Persian Wall Installations, with patterns reminiscent of Eastern and Western cultural traditions, and Macchias, the brightly colored and spotted seashell-shaped pieces that Chihuly displays on tall pedestals in groups called Macchia Forests.
The Seattle-based artist was influenced early in his career by the designs, colors and shapes of Native American blankets and baskets, and this is reflected in a number of his glass baskets and other works.
Three Chihuly chandeliers have been on display for a number of years in the FAC. The "Gilded Blue Sapphire Chandelier" hangs in Cafe 36 and the "Orange Hornet Chandelier," acquired under former FAC executive director Michael De Marsch, is on the second floor. When the glowing tangerine glass in shapes reminiscent of a bee's abdomen arrived from its original placement in the Venice exhibit, De Marsch called it the "jewel of the collection." It was installed in 2005 in the FAC Modern downtown, a space now occupied by GOCA 121, and then redesigned for the FAC's expansion in 2007. The chandelier has 384 pieces of glass, weighs about 1,200 pounds and took two of Chihuly's assistants two days to install.
In 2006, Regina Hackett, an art critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, called Chihuly "the most inventive glass sculptor in the history of the medium."
Though he started by blowing his own glass, a 1976 car accident left Chihuly blind in his left eye and lacking depth perception. The accident accounts for the iconic black eye patch he sports. While bodysurfing in 1979, Chihuly dislocated his shoulder, which prevented him from holding the glassblowing pipe.
In order to create art, he began drawing his designs. Though he is the creative mastermind behind his installations, he is not the main gaffer - a master glassblower who shapes glassware.
He explained in the same Seattle PI story "that he's more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor."
Whatever method Chihuly uses, it doesn't seem to curtail the artist's universal popularity.
"You don't need an art degree to appreciate it. It stands on its own, just the beauty of it," Epstein said. "I think what mostly attracts people is the color. The colors he uses, the hues layered on glass are so dazzling. It almost resets your eyes' notions of color. And by doing that, it really creates a feeling. This exhibit is almost more of an experience than an exhibit."
When: Members-only preview, 5 p.m., Friday; opens to public May 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Sept. 28.
Where: Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Tickets: $20, $10 ages 12 and younger, $8 FAC members, $4 ages 12 and younger; 634-5583, csfineartscenter.org
Something else: An FAC Chihuly Rediscovered" ticket will earn $5 off admission to "Chihuly" at the Denver Botanic Gardends June 14-Nov. 39. A ticket from the DBG show will earn $5 off the FAC show in return.
Contact Jen Mulson: 636-0270