The other week, I found myself gawking at glass.
This wasn’t just any glass — they were massive, intensely-coloured, blown glass objects at the CHIHULY exhibit in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).
Dale Chihuly is an American glassblower known for his large scale and otherworldly architectural installations. An integral part of revolutionizing the studio glass movement, Chihuly’s work encompasses the grandeur, imagination and pure artistry of the art form.
Chihuly first encountered the studio glass movement while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After completing his degree in 1965, he devoted himself to the medium, attending the first American glass program at the University of Wisconsin and later working for the Venini glass factory in Venice.
His larger-than-life installations are featured in over 200 museum collections around the world, including the ROM in Toronto.
Chihuly’s Laguna Torcello installation at the ROM.
Being the fine art fanatic that I am, I decided to venture over to the exhibit and see what all the fuss was about. What could be so interesting about this glass? One elevator ride later, I arrived in the basement of the ROM, also known as the Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, to find out.
The exhibit hall was dark for all of two seconds before large glass installations overwhelmed my eyes with vibrant colours in all shapes and sizes. It was as if I had walked into a psychedelic era, full of vibrant, groovy shapes.
A plaque in the exhibition hall quoted the artist: “I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in a way they have never experienced.” And, overwhelmed I was.
The first installation I came upon was a boat filled with what seemed like balloons, but were actually glass balls of various sizes and colours. Entitled Float Boat (2014), the sculpture was inspired by Chihuly’s early years as an artist, when he floated glass down a river. Local teenagers would chase after them in rowboats, collecting the glass piece by piece.
While this inspiration seemed a bit unusual — how often do you see glass floating down a river — it fit for the rest of the exhibit, which was anything but ordinary.
As I walked through the exhibit, past its 11 unique installations, it seemed as though the sculptures were growing in size and colour. In one of Chihuly’s most iconic installations, what looked like flower sculptures stood contained under a glass ceiling. The bright and beautiful piece, entitled Persian Ceiling (2012), was inspired by the colors and organic shapes throughout Persian art.
The best part of the piece was the beanbags lying on the floor. Viewers were invited to lie down and stare up at the intense ceiling. I ended up getting lost in the colours above me as crowds of people waited their turn.
While Persian Ceiling was a fan favourite, Chihuly’s Red Reeds on Logs was my preferred piece. While at first it seemed simple in its composure, after standing in front of it with my head tilted to the side for several minutes, the true striking beauty of the piece hit me.
If I could sum it up in words, imagine large birch trees lying on their side, pierced by three-meter-long vividly red glass reeds — beautiful.
Despite visiting some of the world’s premiere museums, it happened to be at home in the city of Toronto, where I found my favourite exhibit of them all.
Posted on the wall of the exhibit, Chihuly explains: “Glass has the ability, more than any other material, to bring joy and a certain happiness to people.”
This couldn’t ring more true, as I left the exhibit with a stupefied smile plastered across my face.
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