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Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opens exhibition of works by American artist Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly, Macchia Forest, 2012. Seattle, Chihuly Garden and Glass. Photo: Terry Rishel.

MONTREAL.- From June 8 to October 20, 2013 the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents the artwork of the incomparable American artist Dale Chihuly. At the invitation of Nathalie Bondil, the Museum’s Director and Chief Curator, Chihuly has executed a stunning exhibition of glass sculptures specifically designed for the Museum’s interior architecture, with works that reveal this artist’s powerful creative vision. Born in 1941, Chihuly is recognized worldwide for having revolutionized the Studio Glass movement, elevating glass, his favourite material, from the realm of craft to that of fine art. He has raised the art of blown glass to the level of large-scale sculpture and pioneered the use of this delicate material as a means of expression for environmental art. An immersive, astounding and grandiose visual experience, this exhibition, organized by the MMFA in partnership with the Chihuly Studio, is bound to amaze visitors.

“After organizing the exhibition Louis Comfort Tiffany: A Passion for Colour in 2009 and reinstalling its outstanding collection of design and studio glass during the expansion of 2011, the MMFA is now exhibiting the fascinating and extraordinary installations of artist Dale Chihuly. No other artist has wrestled so mightily with glass: these works have to be seen to be believed”, says Nathalie Bondil.

Regarded as the “Tiffany” of our day, Chihuly has been exploring the plastic potential of blown glass for over fifty years. His spectacular monumental installations defy the apparent fragility of the material to transport us to a magical world. With fire, gravity, breath and centrifugal force, this accomplished master plays with colours, reflections and organic forms, using repetition, accumulation, layering arrangements of modular and singular elements to create unparalleled rhythms and visual effects. This show is an affirmation of how Chihuly liberates glass from its association with the decorative arts and turns it into an authentic medium of contemporary art expression.

“I am excited about my show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and delighted to be presenting my work in the wonderful galleries of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion” says Dale Chihuly.

A made-to-measure exhibition for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
An acknowledged master of site-specific installations, Chihuly measured the various galleries of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion to create a unique layout. It consists of nine immersive environments, four of them designed specifically for the Museum. Taking into account the pavilion’s architecture, Chihuly placed some of the pieces alone and others in groups along the galleries.

“A key figure in the realm of studio glass, Chihuly transcends the materiality of the medium by executing works that reveal a rich creative concept based on a wide-ranging vocabulary which derives from natural shapes and forms. These wondrous pieces are the result of perceptive explorations of colour, form, light and space” explains Diane Charbonneau, Curator of Design at the MMFA.

1. Sun
In the city’s public space on Sherbrooke Street, from the staircase at the entrance to the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, Chihuly summons us with a monumental work entitled Sun. This installation forms a round tower five-metres in diameter emitting rays composed of tendrils in primary colours – two shades of yellow – with elements of blue and red.

2. Turquoise Reeds
In the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, the immersive tour begins with a vast idyllic forest of Turquoise Reeds, dozens of spear-shaped forms springing from the trunks of salvaged old growth western red cedar. This dramatic installation offers striking contrasts between the various colours, density and textures of the materials used.

3. Persian Ceiling
Chihuly’s famous Persian Ceiling is one of his most popular works. It consists of various series works in a multitude of shapes, forms and vivid colours arranged in layers over plates of transparent glass. Note that you should perhaps lie down on the floor to fully appreciate its beauty!

4. The “Chandeliers” and the “Towers”
Hanging or reaching for the sky, the series of “Chandeliers” and “Towers” with their bristling contours are achievements in formal terms, combining blown glass with steel frameworks each weighing several hundred kilograms. Four chandeliers and one tower are displayed in a single gallery. Their configurations complement each other, resembling stalagmites and stalactites in caves. The “Chandeliers”, which first appeared in 1992, hark back to old-fashioned lighting but are quite different in scale. By the fact that they are not functional: they reflect light rather than emitting it, as in the Ruby Pineapple, which has been re-created especially for the Museum. “The idea of a tower”, says Chihuly in regard to these sculptures standing on the floor, “occurred to me as I looked at one of my chandeliers and pictured it upside down.”

5. The “Boats”
The “Boats”, which look like horns of plenty, were added to Chihuly’s repertory of installations in 1995 when the artist and his team were in Finland making the chandeliers for the show Chihuly over Venice. One day, on an impulse, Chihuly threw some pieces of glass into the river and asked some local boys to retrieve them in their boats. The artist now regularly presents old boats floating on pools of water in gardens or incorporates them into the environments he dreams up for museums, as he has done here the Fiori and Float Boats are placed side by side on the reflecting surface of a rostrum. The boats may contain flower stems and vines from the “Fiori” series or spheres with splashes of colour from the “Float” series. The latter were developed after Chihuly’s visit to the Niijima Glass Art Center on the island of that name south of Tokyo. Their spherical shape is an allusion to the glass floats formerly used by Japanese fishermen, some of which Chihuly found as a child on the beaches of Puget Sound, Washington.

6. Macchia Forest
The “Macchia” (Italian for “spotted”) series launched in 1981 led Chihuly to work with the full range of the 300 colours that were available to him in the hotshop. Initially conceived as isolated pieces, the “Macchia” turned into the Macchia Forest: “I have always been interested in space above all. Even when I was making isolated pieces, a Cylinder or a Macchia, it was the space that interested me. I didn’t think about the object in itself, I wondered what it would look like in an installation.”

Assembled on slender steel pedestals and lit from above, the brilliantly coloured “Macchia” are brought to life by the light that shines on them and is reflected on the surrounding walls, producing an exquisite effect reminiscent of the “walls of light” of European stained-glass windows.

For Montreal, Chihuly has created four installations.

1. A Persian Colonnade executed especially for the Museum’s architecture

At the invitation of Nathalie Bondil, Chihuly decided to adorn the peristyle colonnade at the head of the Hornstein pavilion’s majestic staircase. A truly immersive experience, this monumental Persian Colonnade takes us into the artist’s colourful world of flowers, juxtaposing discs in various shades of yellow, orange, blue and red arranged rhythmically on a wood framework.

Looking for a new formal approach, Chihuly started the “Persian” series in 1986 as a tribute to Venice and its Eastern influences: “I just like the name ‘Persian’. It sort of conjured up the Near East, Byzantium, the Far East, Venice – all the trades, smells, senses. It was an exotic name to me, so I just called them ‘Persians’”. Inspired by the Orient, the shapes of this series are notable for the technique used, that is, blown glass in a grooved mould and using glass threads to produce a herringbone pattern. The first pieces took their organic shape from the “Seaforms” and “Baskets” series. In the early 1990s Chihuly put the “Persians” into his installations. The shapes became asymmetrical roundels, in relief and various formats, which he arranged in a somewhat complex manner to create wall or ceiling installations.

2 – The Ruby Pineapple, a lost chandelier made anew for the MMFA
In 1997, Chihuly was invited to the city of Vianne, France, to work hand in hand with the local factory’s team of glassblowers: “We worked for about ten days and towards the end, we realized that we had made one of my most remarkable chandeliers. First of all I looked at all the interesting moulds used in the workshop for making lampshades. After choosing a superb pineapple-shaped mould, I thought I would use it to create something I had never attempted in the thirty-five years of my career.” When the work was finished, all the pieces of glass were packed into two 12-metre square containers to be shipped to Seattle. Unfortunately, when the ship was hit by a storm in mid-Atlantic, one of the containers fell overboard, taking the work with it: “My superb pineapple-shaped chandelier was lost for ever. Fifteen years later, when I was preparing my exhibition for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I decided that it would be the ideal opportunity to re-create the lost chandelier, the Red Pineapple”, says the artist.

3. Mille Fiori, created specifically for the MMFA
Since his early childhood, Chihuly has loved flowers, a passion he attributes to his mother’s delight in gardening and gardens. Proof of this passion is seen in his “Fiori” series, introduced in 2003, which have evolved with his many installations in the glasshouses of botanical gardens. The “Fiori” may be composed of many extravagant elements within a dense and dynamic composition combining several horizontal and vertical lines of force. The Museum’s Mille Fiori, mounted on an imposing low plinth, stands some two and a half metres high and may be viewed from numerous angles. It comprises elements suggesting shapes from nature – reeds, herons – as well as pieces from a number of series – “Towers”, “Floats” and “Persians”. With its arrangements of irregular shapes and sumptuous colours, this installation looks like an enchanted garden.

4. Glass Forest #6
First executed with James Carpenter in 1971 in bluish-white glass for the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (today the Museum of Arts and Design) in New York, the artist has been fascinated by this material and has made the most of its artist potential. Glass Forest #6 presents light sources and glass which are the basic elements of the works and environments Chihuly creates with neon. These fluorescent structures enable him to experiment with colour, scale and line in space. Dozens of slumped spheres rear upwards like germinating seeds. The piece is made of blown white glass filled with argon gas and neon, which produces the shades of blue. The ethereal silhouettes looming up in the darkness create a breathtakingly eerie effect.

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June 16, 2013

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