Art & Photography

Dale Chihuly: Beyond the Object

Dale Chihuly, Cranberry Spire Chandelier (detail), 2013

The pioneer of the American studio glass movement unveils his latest awe-inspiring show at London’s Halcyon Gallery, including his neon chandeliers, show in the UK for the first time

Dale Chihuly is credited with elevating glass above the constraints of a ‘craft’ to an artistic form (though, for me, the argument it should ever be considered just ‘craft’ has always been outlandish, if not ridiculous). The body of work on display at London’s Halcyon Gallery hammers this point home in an impressive display that takes over three floors of their New Bond Street gallery space, as Chihuly explores the relationship between glass and its environment.

The major talking point of the exhibition is (almost inevitably) the large hanging chandeliers and glass floor towers, which dominate the windows of the main floor space. In the course of dialogue, it is these sculptures that shout the loudest, in terms of size, composition and of course colour. The brash neon artworks are shown in the UK for the first time, and the impact of pieces such as ‘Amethyst Icicle Tower’, or the ‘Cranberry Spire Chandelier’, which hangs directly above the former in a direct duel over space – who possesses it, who dominates it? – has a ‘wow’ factor that literally catches your breath.

Their scale is simply phenomenal: tendrils of neon glass lick out from the dense epicenter of Chihuly’s ‘Citron Chandelier with Lime Green Fiori’, like the snakes from Medusa’s head, or the legs of a deep-sea monster. And, fittingly, their tone is more sinister than the Persian series, which is altogether more delicate and serene, from the ‘Pergola Ceiling’ to the ‘Castilian Red Persian Crescent’. They demand attention. They demand awe. And they demand you, like the space of the gallery itself, balk at their form.

This ‘wow’ factor is the inherent success of Chihuly’s work as an artist: moving around the vast exhibition, which covers three floors in space, each and every piece in the gallery creates a sense of wonder. It’s a quality inherent to glass, beyond Chihuly’s work, but none do it quite so well as he. From the gauche oppositional colour palettes that appear to battle each other for dominance in his ‘Macchia’ pieces, to delicate graded tones of the ‘Baskets’ that speak of maturity, calm, and elegance of form, Chihuly’s work takes its lead from the natural world.

“They demand attention. They demand awe. And they demand you, like the space of the gallery itself, balk at their form”

As the title of the exhibition suggests, the real delight comes from seeing the pieces’s interaction with light. The curved petals of the ‘Imperial Yellow Persian Wall’ take on spectacle when light is thrown on them, creating coloured reflections that spread out from them like vibrations, echoes of biological celluloid structures, veins, petals and scales.

The highlight for me are ‘Fire Orange Baskets’, which possess a delightful almost jellyfish form, the glass acting like a translucent skin, speaking directly to the process within, as well as interacting with the surrounding environment.

Hung alongside the glass pieces are ‘Red Drawing on Acrylic’ and ‘Float Drawing on Acrylic’, paintings that offer an additional layer to the exhibition. Having lost an eye in an accident in the 1970s, altering his depth perception, Chihuly changed his mode of painting initial concept designs. Working with his canvas flat on the ground, he pours tubes of paint onto the canvas in an overtly physical application process reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, creating a cacophony of colour and motion. Their inclusion in the exhibition draws the viewer closer to the process of creation, and offers an insight into the lucid colours and energy invested in each piece, adding layers to the narratives on show, and going truly beyond the object.

Dale Chihuly: Beyond the Object runs until 05 Apr 2014 at Halcyon Gallery, 144-146 New Bond Street London, W1S 2PF. For more info, click here

Dale Chihuly, Persian Ceiling, 1999 35 x 14½' Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington, 2012
Dale Chihuly, Persian Ceiling, 1999. Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington, 2012