Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures are in bloom at Kew Gardens
The Seattle-based glass pioneer commands London’s Royal Botanic Gardens with a dazzling display
Dale Chihuly has always pushed the boundaries of glass, experimenting with improbable forms and electric colours, blowing glass until it’s impossibly thin, making works composed of hundreds of individual pieces and in sizes that require immense physical power as well as skill. But, as a major exhibition opened in London’s Kew Gardens demonstrates, his organic work is also beautifully at home in landscapes of lush greenery and vegetation.
With 32 artworks displayed in 13 different locations, both indoors and out, ‘Reflections on Nature’ is a seductive invitation into a world of dazzling glass and a way of ‘bringing art lovers to gardens and garden lovers to art’ according to the artist’s wife, Leslie Chihuly, who joined her husband at the press view. The showstopper is undoubtedly the 9m long pendant of intricate blue-green Temperate House Persians (2019) suspended from the ceiling of the recently restored glasshouse and created especially for the Kew exhibition.
Wild pieces like Summer Sun, located adjacent to the Palm House lake, or the Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower, installed at one end of the elegant Syon vista, are deeply memorable for their boldness, complexity and colour. Just as powerful, though less ostentatious, are the numerous works nestled among the greenery of the recently restored Temperate House – the elegant yellow and red Reeds, the surreal oversized Ikebana vases and stems, or the cactus and snake-like tendrils of the Fiori Verdi in different shades of green – and looking as if they had always been there.
‘Reflections on Nature’ is not just about glass displayed in greenery however – it is also a thoughtful display of Chihuly’s oeuvre that reveals how he works on a number of different scales. In the gardens’ Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, a series of drawings, earlier and smaller works and a long film do much to explain how Chihuly is inspired by nature and ‘how objects look in a space’ and creatively motivated by the notion of pushing glass to the ‘edge of its technical abilities’, until it ‘is so hot it is almost collapsing’.
One room here is filled with a few of the 1,000 or so pieces that Chihuly and his team made for over a year when he started on his Persians series of characterful asymmetrical flowers with undulating patterns. Another features his Rotolo sculptures – deceptively weighty swirls of glass that twist skywards – that apparently require 17 team members to work in unison for hours on end to make one. It’s still glass, but not as you have ever seen it before. §