Denver Botanic Gardens: Chihuly
By Claire Walter
Set among the seasonally changing parade of annuals and perennials at Denver Botanic Gardens, or floating in the Gardens’ water features, is a world-renown artist’s hand-blown glass that glows at night and blazes in bright sunshine. The glass looks different on sunny days or cloudy ones, when the sun is high or when it is nearer to the horizon, whether it is front-lit or backlit. At night, the illuminated pieces take on a near-magical glow, and should it be foggy, they’re ethereal. Admirers make a point of visiting the exhibition several times during a run. This summer, it’s possible to combine a viewing with an evening concert, seeing the works in varying light as the music plays. Come the shorter days of autumn, the glass will be visible in twilight and darkness, perhaps the best time to see them, for longer periods each evening. And with the exhibit on display until Nov. 30, there’s a chance you be able to see the glass in the snow, too.
This is the latest in a series of garden installations by the artist, Dale Chihuly, 72. He hasn’t personally blown glass since he lost an eye in an auto accident, but he sighted installations in 14 selected spots in the Gardens.
Eleven of the renowned Chihuly Studio’s 80 staffers spent nearly two weeks Denver assembling the hundreds of individual glass shapes, from six 53-foot shipping containers, onto pegs protruding from a metal armature on site. You don’t see the skeletal structure, you only see the glass. These pros know what they are doing, but it’s still careful, time-consuming work. His monumental pieces—with hundreds of blown-glass components—are not as fragile as they would seem. They have survived severe weather, including hail, elsewhere.
“Blue Icicle Tower,” created this year, greets visitors as they enter the Gardens. Its 650 “icicles” flare out from the bottom as real icicles could never do. Three clusters of Chihuly’s interpretation of lighter and darker blue forms explode from a stone pedestal.
“Summer Sun,” placed at the rim of grass lawn amphitheater, is made with 1,900 brilliant glass elements in red, yellow and orange. Blue glass reeds are inserted, like candles into a candelabra, into holes drilled into hefty sections of Douglas fir logs placed in the Garden Waterway. They are especially stunning against the red wall that lines one side of the watercourse.
When Chihuly created “Red Reeds” for the New York Botanical Garden in 2006, they were blown in Finland, because Chihuly Studio in Seattle could not fashion such tall, spiked glass pieces. These reeds can be found running through the grass of the Porter Plains Garden. “Float Boat,” also created in 2006, overflows with glass balls, sinuous eelgrass and splayed frog’s feet forms.
Arguably the most famous of the Chihuly works is “Blue and White Towers,” installed in Jerusalem for the Millennium in 2000 and resurrected for the Denver Botanic Gardens. The giant sculpture in this exhibition is “Saffron Tower” and “Amber Cattails,” soaring 30 feet from the new Ellipse Garden. Made of 312 hand-formed neon tubes and surrounded by thin vertically placed glass, it is positively brilliant at night.
Chihuly’s work can also be seen at the Fine Art Center in Colorado Springs. The exhibition, Chihuly Rediscovered, is art’s equivalent of locavore dining. Forty-five objects come from the museum’s permanent holdings with dozen more on loan from Colorado collectors. The exhibit is on display through September 28, 2014.
Denver Botanic Gardens: Chihuly
Visit this exhibit through November 30, 2014, at the York Street Denver Botanic Gardens location.