Fine Art Connoisseur

DALE CHIHULY’S VISION GLASS, AND MUCH MORE

The Seattle-based artist Dale Chihuly (b. 1941) is known worldwide for colorful, expressive creations in glass that have — during his five-decade career — revolutionized our understanding of this material, which had long been discounted by connoisseurs of fine art as “merely” decorative or industrial. Through his efforts, glass has become another legitimate medium in the field of sculpture, as integral to it as bronze or clay. Chihuly’s work has grown in scale as production technologies become more sophisticated, and he continues to draw inspiration from diverse aesthetic traditions, including those of Italy, Ireland, Japan, the Czech Republic, and the Middle East.

Glass has always captivated us — for its translucency, for its familiarity, for the thrilling possibility that it can shatter — yet Chihuly has empowered it to excite even more people through his compelling arrangements. Given the general perception that Chihuly is a maximalist who adores bright colors and soaring heights, it may seem odd to align him with the minimalist movement that arose in the late 1960s. In fact, his repetitive use of an industrially produced element (glass) does link him to canonical minimalists like Donald Judd, who stacked and wall-mounted steel boxes painted with enamel. Perhaps more evident is Chihuly’s link to the movement of process art, with its emphasis on nontraditional materials and the act of creation, rather than on the finished product as a precious, irreplaceable treasure. (Chihuly’s crew members never fret when a piece of glass breaks during installation; they always

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