Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chihuly (or - He Who Lives in a Glass House...)

Sometimes, it's best to leave your expectations at home. Just air them out, leave them behind.

That's what I did yesterday, when I went to see the so-much-spoken-of Chihuly exhibition at the De Young museum of art in San Francisco.

Y'see, at the risk of losing all my readers at once, I'll go ahead and admit that I never really liked Chihuly's art. I know, I know - he is considered to be a highly-superlativized genius, and who am I to object, but, well, I always perceived his work as too colorful, too screaming, too showy, too - you name it.

And yet - everyone who went to this exhibit came back utterly impressed. Plus, Katherine Chang-Liu (who's workshop I took a coupe of years ago) said something that really stuck with me: "go see art that annoys you - and try figuring out why is it art and not crap. It will open and expand your horizons you more than you can imagine!". Alas, The JohnnyB does not abide by that principle, and he refused to come with me, as he shares my opinion about the work, but - do not despair: a couple of months ago, DiploK ((whom you may remember from
this post, and who is also blessed with a husband who's sick and tired of going to every art show), has proposed to me to become her 'Art Wife'.

Choked with emotions, I accepted.

And so, we went to the city.

Luckily, I'm a member of the De Young, which paid off for this exhibit, as apparently this exhibit is considered to be a special one, which means you pay to see it (Aha! but not if you're a member!). Plus, it's timed! Like, you get a little sticker that entitles you to go in, and it has a time stamp that tells you you have to get in there by 1pm (in our case).

So, you go to the end of the v-e--r---y l----o-------n--------g line of anticipating people, and wait to be let in. I personally hated this, and got more agitated once got close to the entrance and realized that if we wish to have the headset that enlightens you about the exhibit, you need to take out more dollars and give them to the nice ladies there (a total rip-off, if you ask me). Sicne I did all the driivng up and back, DiploK treated me to a headset and in we went, with me muttering all kinds of things that were as far as can be from positive attitude. Yup, you betcha I was cranky by all this hype.

...until we got to the first room.

The exhibit is spread over 11 rooms (galleries, as they call it), each has a separate body of work, a different feel and mood. The rooms are dark and only the glasswork is lit, which adds a very impressive effect. Yes, there was a lot of the ultra-colorful stuff that I was expecting and am not crazy about, but some of the galleries have just left me speechless with awe. Like the absolutely stunning glass pieces inspired by Navajo blankets and baskets, or the snowy feel of Finland, so elegantly done with countless tall thin bluish-purple glass thingies installed on top of trees with peeling bark, looking like a Hannukia on steroids. Or the huge water-lily-like sculptures. Or the immense bowls.

I was impressed beyond words. What a misjudgment it was to think Chihuly was just about gaudy flashy art. Apparently, he has another side, perhaps less-known, and I loved his more limited-palette works, especially the Navajo-inspired ones.

For reasons I cannot fathom, it was actually allowed to take photos (I still cannot believe it!), so I can shared some of it.

WackieM mentioned to me today that if you've never tried glass-blowing, you cannot quite appreciate the mastery that Chihuly has achieved in his work. So, novices like me just look at some of his work and go "Oh, that's big. OK". But - it's not that obvious, so it seems. Thinking of it, I realized it's a bit like how you look at a painting. So many times I heard the comment "Ohhh, look at that painting - look at all those details!", which is likely to be said by most people who do not paint or draw. But those of us who do, tend to stop at their tracks at the sight of a very minimal artwork with very few details, admire it forever and sigh "Ah, if I could only do that! Just suggest rather than feed all the information to the viewer with a silver spoon".

And maybe that's why I lean more towards his clean-lined work, rather than all the spiky thorny swirly multicolored look-at-me pieces.

As DiploK and I were having lunch, trying to digest all the wonders that we've seen, we mentioned the pieces that were for sale at the gift shop. There were a couple of glorious bowls by Chihuly, for the symbolic price of several thousands dollars (well, the dollar did go down, so if you think if foreign currency, maybe it's not so pricy...). I was drooling about those, when DiploK's imagination started to get into the fast-forward mode.

"You think we could load one of those big pieces from the exhibit into your Beetle?", she pondered.

"Sure!", I joined her little fantasy game, "my Beetle has a sun-roof, we can open it. And leave the windows open too, for the spikes to stick out".

She grinned at me, about to continue, but then I stopped her thread of thought.

"There is one problem", I said sadly. "I am not sure they are microwave safe. Y'see, those huge bowls would be perfect for baking a casserole in them".

But a person like DiploK would not let such triviality stop her.

"Ah, we can go back to the exhibit hall and turn them over, check if it is microwave safe", she solved my problem.

At this point, the woman eavesdropping from the table next to ours almost choked on her food.

Some people just don't have any sense of humor.


Sandy Maudlin said...

Your sense of humor leaves me laughing out loud when I read your posts. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences at the exhibit. I loved it.

RHCarpenter said...

I loved that you could get photos and share a different view of Chuhuly than I've seen and your wonderful sense of humor about the whole thing :) Sounds like you have a good art wife/husband now to travel with, to take in art that appeals and appalls and that can share in the fun.

bonnieluria said...

You're quite right about how you view an art form based on whether you've grappled with one yourself.

I really enjoyed reading your open minded and honest viewpoint about a medium that didn't appeal to you.

The photos were gorgeous.

A valid statement about viewing art that annoys you and trying to understand why.

Nava said...

Sandy, sometimes humor is essential...

Rhonda, art spouses are invaluable. "art that appeals and appalls" - I like that!

Bonnie, don't get me wrong - I do appreciate glasswork. I just don't always like how it's being used.

wrjones said...

I think you should buy one of his largest pieces then have the children over to play a little indoor ball. This will be a good test of your nerves.

waving said...

O, seriously, flying to SF would be easier than posting a comment here. But, I think I'm gonna fly out, have you pick me up at airport. I'll be with Pierce Brosnan of Thomas Crown Affair? Famous art thief? Then, we'll go get the Navajo Blanket. Can that really be glass???? And, we'll put it in your VW and drive back to airport. One question, following on your conversation at lunch---did you happen to notice whether the blanket could be machine washed? Or, will I have to dry clean it?
Since I can't post this with my wordpress name, I'll tell you: I am w1kkp, single for a reason!

Nava said...

W.R., I like the way you think.

Pat, Uhm... I think you are bouncing between my two blogs, hence your feeling that the gods of comments are against you. Yup, that Navajo blanket is glass. Oh, and it is machine washable, I believe. Just no bleach, please. And a gentle cycle, needless to say. Glass does tend to be fragile, y'know.