(Image by Al_HikesAZ)
Last wee Emily and I had the fortune to visit St. Louis, Missouri for several days during our Midwestern tour vacation. We asked several locals what sites they recommended seeing while there, and each person without exception told us that we needed to see the Glass in the Garden exhibition at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The installation was designed by Dale Chihuly, who amongst other achievements holds both a Masters of Science in Glass Blowing and a Masters of Fine Arts in Sculpture.
I must admit that art museums are often tiresome to me. Large galleries are a sensory overload. Walking through one is an inundation of passive information in a generally sterile environment. In other words, it’s hard for me to actually experience the art. With exceptions, I am merely an observer rather than a participant. Part of what I enjoyed so much about the Chihuly pieces was their experiential nature. I felt that I was part of the art, and that my being present actually mattered.
If I had to summarize my impression of the installation, I would use the phrase “entwinement of the inorganic with the organic”. While walking through the nearly uncountable species of plants in the gardens there are pieces of ornamental glass decorating the landscape. Sometimes it actually appears as if a plant is growing glass branches. In one of my favorite pieces there are tubes of iridescent blue glass standing amongst an army of cool green bamboo. It almost looks as if the two could easily coexist together in nature. Around every corner was a merger of glass and plant. I almost felt like a child on an Easter egg hunt, just waiting for the next treasure to appear unexpectedly. If you’d like to see more examples of what I mean you can see Emily and my pictures here.
While I wouldn’t count Chihuly as my favorite artist (this “honor” is held by James Turrell), I have to thank him for his creative methods. Both Turrell and Chihuly design art which is experiential rather than merely observable. Both use light and color with beautiful effect. Both blur the lines between organic and inorganic. These traits, to me, embody art at its fullest.