Five Questions: Curator Blake Milteer on Colorado Springs’ passion for Dale Chihuly

May 1, 2014

Photo: Blake Milteer of FACWith rich hues and sensual, playful curves, Dale Chihuly’s glass art is the Cirque de Soleil of fine art: It dazzles and entertains.

But Chihuly’s work isn’t all acrobatic tricks and circus magic.

The man behind the glass has been at it since the 1960s and has inspired many other American glass artists over the past several decades.

The Fine Arts Center (FAC) in Colorado Springs opens its second Chihuly exhibition, “Chihuly Rediscovered,” on May 3.

The exhibit features more than 50 works by the Seattle-based artist, including both art from the museum’s permanent collection and pieces loaned from private collections.

FAC has a special relationship with this artist’s work, as the success of the first Chihuly exhibition in 2005 helped to pay for the museum’s expansion and renovations in 2007.

Blake Miteer, FAC museum director and chief curator, organized this latest glass art showcase for the museum. He spoke with Colorado Public Radio about revisiting Chihuly and why the artist continues to be so popular.

CPR: FAC had a Chihuly exhibition back in 2005. Why bring his work back to Colorado Springs? How will this exhibition differ from its nine-year predecessor?

Blake Milteer: This Chihuly exhibition is very much based around the FAC's permanent collection of Chihuly sculptures, drawings and prints. The FAC has the largest collection of Dale Chihuly's work in Colorado. The works were acquired by the FAC after our 2005 Chihuly exhibition. The 2005 exhibition of his work was significant in maintaining community inspiration, energy and motivation for the FAC's renovation and expansion process. Since the expansion was completed and opened to the public in 2007, we have had select Chihuly pieces rotating from our collection on view at any given time. For this exhibition, “Chihuly Rediscovered,” we will display all of the sculptures and most of the 2-D pieces from our own Chihuly collection as well as a selection of loaned pieces.

CPR: Can you tell me about some of the pieces in the exhibition? How many are part of the permanent collection and how many are on loan? Which works are you particularly exhibited about and why?

Blake Milteer: The FAC collection of Chihuly consists of 24 glass works, three chandeliers and 22 two-dimensional works. This summer's Chihuly experience at the FAC will include all of the glass works and chandeliers, most of the 2-D works and approximately 12 loans from private collections. Some of my favorites from the show are the “Orange Hornet” chandelier, “Macchia” and the “Persian” series.

Chihuly redesigned the “Orange Hornet” chandelier specifically for the FAC’s expansion in 2007. It was originally installed in Venice in 1993. The redesigned chandelier now weighs about 1,200 pounds, incorporates a total of 384 pieces of glass and took two full days to install.

“Macchia” takes its name from a time in the early 1980s when Chihuly felt he had been using too few colors in his work. Wanting to employ the full range of hues available for glass making, he developed a method of using layers of white to separate colors on the interior and exterior. When a friend explained that the Italian word for "spotted" was "macchia," the title was adopted for this series.

Chihuly's first “Persians” were made in 1986. He had been working on an eccentric group of brightly colored and unusually shaped objects. They seemed archaeological, like treasures excavated from the ancient world. The “Persians” have undulating forms that allude to desert winds, as well as rich patterning that reflects a fusion of Eastern and Western cultural traditions. I am particularly fond of the “Persian” wall. Bright, focused and beautiful, I love the way light passes through the “Persians” and refracts onto the wall behind. It really sings and adds extra dimension to the piece.  

CPR: What is it about Chihuly's work that makes it so popular?

Blake Milteer: The visual aspects of Chihuly's magnificently multilayered art are undeniable and speak to people of varying demographics. The elegance of his glass forms and the gorgeous intensity of the colors he creates are so visually appealing  it’s a dazzling spectacle, as his works almost appears to glow from within. In this exhibition, you can also dig deeper and see the virtuosity and craftsmanship in some of his early work in the Navajo textiles and baskets on view.

CPR: This exhibition opens about a month before the Denver Botanic Garden's Chihuly outdoor exhibition. Did you work at all in tandem with the Botanical Gardens on this?

Blake Milteer: Purchasing a ticket at one of the two shows gets you $5 off admission to the other. We hope that visitors will experience both exhibitions to witness the extensive range of Chihuly's art.

CPR: Is there a local Colorado glass art scene? Where can people go to get locally made glass art?

Blake Milteer: A great place to experience local, contemporary glass art is at the Pismo Fine Art Glass in Denver. The gallery actually has a Chihuly event June 13 through August 10.

“Chihuly Rediscovered” runs at the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs May 3 through September 28. For more information, visit CSFinesArtsCenter.org.

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