The new exhibit “Chihuly | In the Gallery + In the Forest” does not tell a story in chronological order. Of course, neither does the famous glass artist, whose work can be viewed in a combined indoor and outdoor exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Dale Chihuly, whose work has been displayed in art centers such as Venice, London and throughout the United States, frequently revisits themes from his past. Many of the works now on display at Crystal Bridges are new takes on previous ideas, crafted by his team of glass blowers.
Chihuly’s works are contained both inside Crystal Bridges and outside on the newly opened North Forest Trail area. When placed outside, they have opened been surrounded by natural elements found in the area, like these logs, to give the works the idea they sprung up from the ground.
Britt Cornett, head of exhibitions for the Chihuly organization, described the 75-year-old Washington native as the “orchestra director” or the process. He hasn’t blown glass himself since the late 1970s, when a car accident in England – during which he lost the use of an eye – and a later shoulder injury made it impossible to continue the manual labor. But he has built an empire of glass art, complete with talented glass blowers, an exhibition team and a dedicated shipping facility that ensures the delicate glass items get to their destinations unharmed.
The process to bring Chihuly’s glass art to the museum in Bentonville started in 2013, when the artist first walked the museum and the grounds. The discussion to bring the work here picked up again when Crystal Bridges decided to rework the wooded area just to the north of the museum into a new trail and public access area. Chihuly has often installed works in nature, making it a perfect fit.
On the newly built and manicured North Forest Trail are several Chihuly works, such as “Sol d’Oro,” or Gold Sun, which stands about 10 feet tall and features spiraling columns of glass jutting out from its center. Also on the 1.1-mile trail are works such as tall reeds made while the artist and team were working in Finland. Because of the mineral compositions used in the glass-blowing process, the colors cannot be duplicated in the United States. Cornett says the works should ideally be viewed at many different times of the day. One that appears a medium slate blue in the daytime glows bright lavender when lit at night.
This glass sculpture, called “Sol D’oro,” was built for the Crystal Bridges exhibit. After the work was completed in the artist’s Seattle-area workshop, the work was disassembled and the pieces were individually numbered so they could be reassembled in Arkansas. / Photo: Kevin Kinder
Patrons of the new exhibits will have the opportunity to see all the outdoor works at night. The “In the Forest” exhibit will be lit in the evenings, and the museum is extending evening hours on Wednesday and Fridays until 10 p.m. through the summer so visitors can explore the outdoor exhibition in the evening. The museum is also offering the Chihuly Saturday Nights series, which run through the summer and offer live music and artmaking opportunities in the new North Forest area. A new restroom and a new food truck featuring the food from Eleven, the museum restaurant, will be available to trail patrons. The Chihuly Saturday Night series kicks off June 3 with live music from Andy Frasco and the UN.
Inside the museum are further examples of the kind of works made by Chihuly and his team. Several of them have never been displayed in a museum setting before, and the works span the entirety of his career. One of the earliest examples of his work – and a sign of things to come – is a tapestry from 1965. Chihuly, then a college student, starting weaving chunks of glass into the tapestry. Cornett called the display of the piece “an exciting moment” for the Chihuly organization, considering it had never been shown before and its seminal status in the artist’s career path.
“His professors, and Dale himself, realized he might be on to something,” Cornett said.