Friday, September 26, 2008

Curious George and the Precious Breakable Chihuly Masterpieces

I’ll admit it, when I first thought about visiting the Dale Chihuly show at RISD all I could envision was my two-year-old tearing through the gallery space while I followed, horror-stricken. It played out like one of those Curious George stories where he’s brought about some sort of hideous and expensive devastation and the whole town (conveniently sorted by their job titles) ends up chasing after him. Well, we recently attended a media preview of the show with that question in mind. Is it possible to enjoy these exquisite and highly fragile masterpieces with children in tow? In a nutshell; this is pure magic and none of us within driving distance of Providence, RI should miss this opportunity to enjoy great art.

The first thing that awaits you is the Persian Chandelier. Like most of these works, it was created specifically for the RISD venue. You move beneath a profusion of multihued glass forms illuminated meticulously to allow gentle, colored light to filter onto the wall. An intriguing aspect of his work is how Chihuly succeeds in defying the properties of his medium. The liveliness of the color and form suggests movement and growth, which we usually don’t associate with glass. Also, the scale of the installation merges the art with the viewer’s physical space.

Chihuly’s drawings form a grid across the next wall. As with the glass objects, the artist uses heat, color and a bit of serendipity to create these lively compositions. They seem almost to have formed themselves. He uses paintbrushes, brooms and squirt bottles to apply the paint and there is an amazing sense of joy and vigorous energy to them. I might ask my girls how they think the artist feels as he’s making these works. I know they’ll be thrilled to learn that his shoes are covered with paint.

Beyond the drawings to your left is the Mille Fiori installation. The gallery is built in a circular form around a garden of swirling and rounded shapes. The darker palette lends a quieter, meditative feeling to the work. Chihuly often says that he’s never met a color he doesn’t like, and each one of the installations at RISD invokes a slightly different mood as a result of this variety. I’m curious to hear how my kids might respond to each color palette and how they choose to describe them.

The glowing lavender spires emerging from birch tree trunks in Chihuly’s Neodymium Reeds, 2008 calls to mind the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. The installation is informed by our complex and varied American landscape tradition and it pushes the boundaries of that genre. Neodymium Reeds, with its formal, balanced composition expresses a reverential feeling of arcadia and creates a playful dialogue with many of the older, more traditional pieces in the RISD Museum’s collection such as a Thomas Cole or Martin Heade. A fun activity might be to ask kids to compare it with one of the Museum’s 18th- or 19th-century landscapes.

The last images in the show are three large-scale baskets -- again masterfully illuminated and displayed on dark steel slabs. Inspired by Northwest Coast Indian baskets, these works are astounding technical achievements. The final shape really allows us to envision the way they were created; changing and bending as they responded to the heat of the furnace and the centrifugal force manipulated by the artist. The result is a wonderfully organic and vibrant tour de force of glass and light. They show Chihuly’s unique willingness to allow his pieces to create themselves.

The Rhode Island School of Design will present the Grand Opening of the new Chace Center on Saturday, Semptember 27. There will be a free day of activities for the public from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Click here for a schedule of events.

So here are my tips for bringing kids:

  • After Saturday, the show requires advance purchase of tickets. Here’s the link
  • Take the time to prepare little monkeys that they are about to see something very special and that it will fun to look together.
  • Hold hands with little ones at all times.
  • The space is laid out beautifully, so that there are no surprises -- no towering glass columns around a corner that you can’t see ahead of time.
  • Contemporary art is a wonderful treat for young ones and it enriches your own enjoyment of the experience. Ask a lot of questions and follow-up questions.
  • Get down to their eye level when it’s comfortable for you. If they feel engaged and acknowledged they will wonderful participants in the experience.
  • Cater to their inner Curious George and your own. Do they like science? You can talk about the way light behaves or how heat changes things. Mythology more your thing? They could learn about Hephaestus or Vulcan.
  • Don’t expect too much of little monkeys. Unless children are older, it’s usually easiest to keep museum visits short and frequent. It ensures their full attention, plus it gives them time to process what they’ve seen. There is a wealth of other exhibits to come back and enjoy.
Photo credits:
Dale Chihuly, Persian Chandelier, 2008, Chihuly at RISD, Providence, RI, Photography by Erik Gould
Dale Chihuly, Chihuly Drawings, 2008, Chihuly at RISD, Providence, RI, Photography by Erik Gould
Dale Chihuly, Mille Fiori, 2008, 7 x 231/2 x 81/2, Chihuly at RISD, Providence, RI, Photography by Erik Gould
Dale Chihuly, Neodymium Reeds, 2008, Chihuly at RISD, Providence, RI, Photography by Erik Gould


Mama said...

This is amazing! I feel as though I went to this exhibit with you and I really enjoyed it, kitty. You constantly amaze and inspire me. I want to make a museum date with you for summer 2009--it sounds crazy but at least I'll know I can look forward to it. I enjoy seeing you and learning from your wisdom with the monkeys as much as any exhibit. But I enjoyed "attending" this one so much!

willow said...

Oh-oh-oh!!! I love Chihuly!! I've always had a thing for glass. I would have adored this exhibit. Thanks for this wonderful post.

And...thanks for enjoying my Manor Ball and helping to make it a huge success.

Willow x

Blicky Kitty said...

Thanks pretty mama. I need your enlightenment about a few things so I'll either call or write to you in cyberspace.

Willow thank you so much for your visit. I wish I had cleaned up the place a bit first. I love your site so much! It's just infused with creativity, beauty and wisdom.