Glass artist Chihuly reshapes light in concurrent exhibitions

Two museums, the Orlando Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, have collaborated in displaying an artist known for his glass bowls, vases, floats and chandeliers.

"Chihuly Across Florida: Masterworks in Glass" features the art of Dale Chihuly, who also will be making site-specific installations at both locations.

The exhibitions constitute the largest presentation of his art glass in two museums at the same time. In giving glass sculpture a visibility and critical attention, not since Louis Comfort Tiffany a century ago has an artist been as inventive and revolutionary in this medium.

Chihuly takes classical shapes, such as the bowl and vase, and invests them with a biomorphic force that transforms them into expressive, post-modern, minimalist art.

Sculptures are energized by expansive veils of evanescent, colored light that suggest unconscious universals in the nature of the shapes and in the translucent harmonies of color he employs.

In these objects, a ganglion of nerves, subaqueous flora or some mysterious galactic phenomenon can be imagined.

In recent years, Chihuly has extended the optical language of glass beyond earlier, formal inventions by moving toward conceptual, site-specific installations.

It's a development in his art that can be traced to his proposed 1968 sculptural installation of the "Floats" for the city of Ferrara, Italy. More recently, in "100,000 Pounds of Ice and Neon" (1993), at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., he used bright primary and secondary colored neon imbedded in large, rectangular blocks of ice.

All these installations successfully balance the decorative with the expressive, the ornamental with the spontaneous gesture.

In the words of art historian and critic Henry Geldzahler, Chihuly "confidently bestrides" the difference between art and craft, obliterating the distinction.

His sensuous forms realize a classical avant-garde idea (and ideal) of surface, while his energy has established glass as a medium of fine art.

It's a fact the concurrent exhibitions make clear.

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