Chihuly...From Many Angles

My husband and I took our kids to see Dale Chihuly's "Utterly Breathtaking," an exhibit of hand-blown glass at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art (MMFA) on the very last day it was in the city. Chihuly's unique collection had attracted more than 275,000 visitors, along with rave reviews.

The Pacific Northwest native, often described as the new Tiffany, is more of a glass sculptor than an artist who creates strictly decorative pieces. His colourful, finely detailed creations are life-sized and imposing, creating a striking contrast between strength and fragility. The overarching theme in this exhibit was marine life, but there were also plenty of flowers, mushrooms and even a neon forest.

Although I would have liked to get much closer to the objects than the MMFA permitted, I shuddered at the thought of having to dust each piece in the collection.

After all, a large part of an object's "dazzle effect" was how it shone from multiple surfaces in the overhead light. Dust would be highly visible and interfere with the esthetics, disgusting more than a few visitors. For the general public's viewing pleasure, these objects had to be dusted...often.

But as I stood staring at the above underwater scene, I couldn't see any easy or safe way to approach these twisting, asymmetrical, pointy pieces of multi-coloured glass, strictly for the purposes of cleaning. The potential duster would have to be extremely thin and agile, possibly a former Cirque du Soleil performer, and of course, she or he would be subjected to incredibly close "white-gloved" scrutiny by MMFA staff and visitors. I could imagine what would happen if they didn't. The visitor comment cards would read, "Dusty!" in angry block letters or "Allergies to dust, am utterly breathless!"

The position of duster would indeed be a demanding, potentially dangerous job, but the duster-acrobat would have that much-coveted close-up view that so many of us craved. The dusting professional would also be actually able to "touch" les objets d'art, and for me, that would be compensation enough.

I'll admit it. I'm inclined to touch. If I had my way, I would touch a lot of art in museums, from the curves in bronze sculptures to the chunks of excess pigment in oil paintings. The tactile experience is unfortunately missing. And I'm not alone in my tactile proclivity. I've taken more than a few of my students to museums and witnessed that spark of interest in the eye and then the slowly rising hand towards the objet d'art. Sadly, sight alone gives us a limited experience or just part of the whole picture.

At the MMFA, I saw an older woman with the same telltale dazzled look. I watched as she reached out with her hand. But when another visitor gasped, she quickly pulled her hand back.

"It's hard not to touch," I said to my 11-year-old daughter, who was standing next to me. She had also noticed the outstretched hand.

She rolled her eyes and sighed, "Everyone knows you're not allowed to touch anything."

Whether she liked the exhibit or not is hard to tell. She's at an age where her actions often belie her opinions. She took a lot of pictures, but said that "it was all too much of the same thing."

When I questioned her further, she said that "it was a lot of shiny, colourful glass without a purpose."

"But was a purpose necessary?" I asked. She just sighed and walked away.

If there was another member in my family who liked to touch things, it would be my six-year-old son. He found many objects that he wanted to touch in the first room with a glass ceiling holding hundreds of tiny colourful blown-glass replicas of sea life. With his extended index finger, he showed me his favourite things--a starfish and two cherubs.

Unfortunately, the life-sized objects were too big for him to fully appreciate, and he got bored. In the final room with the many flowers and mushrooms, he told us most audibly that he wanted to do something "fun," something related to Hallowe'en. As I walked around to take my final pictures, he began hanging on my arm, which made for some blurry pictures.

In the end, the playful "Utterly Breathtaking" was much more inspiring to the parents than children. In fact, our kids were itching for some fresh air. But I did find myself breathless on the few occasions when I was able to take a close enough look.


Anonymous | November 11, 2013 at 8:46 PM

Great pictures, Akamama! I loved this exhibit, too.

Post a Comment