An internationally acclaimed American artist working in the realm of glass sculpture, Chihuly heads a team that has had unparalleled influence on the development of glassblowing as a medium for large-scale assemblages and installations. His experimentation with natural forms bridges the distinctions between craft and art, between representation and abstraction, while a riotous play of colour focuses the eye on brilliant and beautiful excess.
American, b. 1941
Chihuly was born on 20 September 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, the son of a butcher and a housewife with a keen interest in gardening. In earliest childhood, he was already fascinated by the qualities of glass, collecting pieces he found on the beaches of Puget Sound. During his initial degree course, studying interior design and architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle in the early 1960s, he learned to melt and fuse glass. His first award, while still an undergraduate, was earned from the Seattle Weavers’ Guild in 1964 for innovative use of glass and fibre.
After working as a designer at John Graham Architects in Seattle in 1965 and a period fishing commercially in Alaska, Chihuly won a scholarship enabling him to enrol for a Master of Science in sculpture at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1966–1967). There he took part in America’s first hot-glass programme, run by Harvey K. Littleton, founder of the studio glass movement. His training continued with a Master of Fine Arts in ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, where he embarked on installations of blown glass. Forming organic shapes as much by gravity as by tooling, he filled them with gas that vividly illuminated constructions the size of a room.
In 1968, Chihuly used a Fulbright Fellowship to visit Europe and became the first American glassblower to work at the Venini factory in Venice, on the island of Murano where glassmaking has thrived since the tenth century. The Italian practice of teamwork contrasted with Littleton’s more individualised approach and was to become a significant method of working for Chihuly and his team. Returning to the United States, he set up a glass programme at RISD and taught there for the next 11 years, additionally co-founding Pilchuck Glass School, an international centre in Washington State.
Despite two serious accidents in the 1970s that left him without sight in his left eye and with a damaged shoulder, Chihuly has pursued a long and successful creative career, conceiving and supervising the realisation of fantastic works of art in glass, recording ephemeral works on camera and DVD, publishing over 20 books and forever extending the range of glass art in the open air. His sources of inspiration are diverse, including Native American art and Japanese flower arranging, the sea and Italian glassware of the interwar years. Among the series he has developed are ‘Navajo Blanket Cylinders’ and ‘Baskets’ in the 1970s; ‘Seaforms’, ‘Macchia’ (Italian for ‘spotted’), ‘Persians’ and ‘Venetians’ in the 1980s; ‘Chandeliers’ and ‘Towers’ in the 1990s; and, since the year 2000, ‘Fiori’ (‘flowers’) and ‘Silvered’.
Chihuly originates his concepts as drawings or paintings, working at floor level to create fluid designs that are a festival of motion and colour. While his earlier works were more muted, ‘Macchia’ consciously used all the 300 hues at his disposal. Many subsequent installations are intensely colourful, either exploring one vibrant shade, like Scorpion Tails and Bamboo (Phoenix, Arizona, 2008–2009), or as a kaleidoscopic display, as in the 17 metre long Mille Fiori (de Young Museum, San Francisco, 2008). He has constantly experimented with line, fusing glass threads into blanket cylinders, ribbing the surfaces of seaforms, highlighting the edges of the ‘Macchia’ series with lip wraps and basing the entire forms of chandeliers and towers on a vast nest of intertwining, elongated tubes of blown glass.
Chihuly’s largest projects are linked with architecture and landscape. Indoors he may create a tower to fill a stairwell or fashion a ceiling of multicoloured glass pieces – most famously, the 2,000 flowers of Fiori di Como in Las Vegas. Outside, he has hung chandeliers fabricated in four different countries – Mexico, the United States, Ireland and Finland – over the canals of Venice as a gesture of gratitude for what he learned in the city (1995–1996). His Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000 project placed white and deep blue glass towers amidst ancient ruins in the courtyard of the Tower of David Museum, while his ‘Garden’ cycle began in the glasshouses and grounds of Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory (2001) and has included, among many locations, Kew Gardens in London (2005), the New York Botanical Garden (2006) and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan (2010). With organic forms that sometimes blend in with their surroundings and sometimes startle, he invents gardens of delight where sunlight plays on delicately translucent surfaces and nature and art interact subtly.
The recipient of many awards, Chihuly holds eleven honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. His works are held in the permanent collections of over 225 museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Among his private collectors are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sir Elton John.
Since 1967 Chihuly has exhibited internationally, from Brazil to New Zealand and from Iceland to Japan. During the past decade, 97 exhibitions in seven countries presented his artworks for the enjoyment of more than 10 million people. Venues in 2011–2012 included Tacoma Art Museum, Washington; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Fort Collins Museum of Art, Colorado; Oklahoma City Museum of Art; Sandra Ainsley Gallery, Toronto, Canada; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia; and his inaugural exhibition at Halcyon Gallery, London, which attracted over 70,000 visitors. In the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, a monumental new piece commissioned by the gallery, Torchlight Chandelier, was installed on Park Lane.
A magnificent museum and art garden devoted entirely to Chihuly’s work, constructed at the Seattle Center in Washington State, was opened in May 2012 to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair. It is conceived on a grand scale, with monumental outdoor installations of his signature Chandeliers, Towers and Reeds, a sizable exhibition hall and a glasshouse of some 400 square metres displaying an immense suspended sculpture of around 2,000 elements in shades of oxblood red, orange, amber and citron yellow.
‘Dale Chihuly is not just a major player in the art world; he’s one of those rare people who have actually changed the game’, writes Ben Bamsey in Artworks magazine. ‘While glass has been around for 5,000 years and artists have been blowing it for 2,000, Chihuly came along and changed the shape and scale of the medium, also the way in which it is crafted and presented. Chihuly and his team have invented more techniques than can be stuffed into a da Vinci sketchbook. His revolutionary approach to glass blowing elevated the industry from craft to fine art.’
1968 MFA Ceramics, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence
1967 MSc Sculpture, University of Wisconsin at Madison
1965 BA Interior Design, University of Washington, Seattle
2012 Chihuly at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
2012 Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle Center, Washington
2011 Chihuly, Halcyon Gallery, London
2011 Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
2010 Chihuly at Cheekwood, Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, Nashville, Tennessee
2010 Chihuly at the Salk, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California
2009 Making Worlds (group exhibition), Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
2008 Chihuly at the de Young, de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California
2006 Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden
2005 Gardens of Glass: Chihuly at Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens, Surrey, UK
2002 Chihuly 2002: Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games, Salt Lake Art Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
2001 Chihuly at the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
2000 Chihuly in Iceland: Form from Fire, Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland
1999 Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000, Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
1995 Chihuly Over Venice, Venice, Italy
1989 20th International Biennial, São Paulo, Brazil
1986 Dale Chihuly: Objets de Verre, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Louvre, Paris
SELECTED PUBLIC PLACEMENTS
2012 Torchlight Chandelier, Park Lane, London
2012 Drammens Museum Chandelier, Drammen, Norway
2010 Columbia Museum of Art Chandelier, Columbia, South Carolina
2006 Huntington Museum of Art Tower, Huntington, West Virginia
2005 Thames Skiff, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, London
2002 Chihuly Bridge of Glass, Tacoma, Washington
2001 V&A Chandelier, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
2000 Crystal Mountain, Museum of the History of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
1998 Fiori di Como, Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
1996 Mercato del Pesce di Rialto Chandelier, Rialto Fish Market, Venice
1995 Persian Flowers, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
1994 Persian Window, St Peter's Church, New York
1987 Rainbow Room Frieze, Rockefeller Center, New York
Chihuly’s work is included in more than 225 museum collections worldwide, including:
Corning Museum of Glass, New York
de Young Museum, San Francisco, California
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Louvre, Paris
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Singapore Art Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
White House Collection of American Crafts, Washington, DC
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Chihuly has been the recipient of numerous awards, including eleven honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts