Over his nearly five-decade career as a visual artist, Dale Chihuly has become almost as well-known for being a successful and canny entrepreneur as for his colorful and intricately wrought glass creations.
After a serious car accident in the 1970s, which took away his vision in one eye and affected his ability to blow glass on his own, Chihuly turned to a factory model to produce his work, in which small armies of assistants would carry out his visions to his specifications.
The factory process allowed Chihuly to work in an increasingly larger scale, and he gradually became best known for dazzling public installations in places like Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel as well as a series of site-specific exhibitions in major botanical gardens across the United States in the 2000s.
Meanwhile, the increased volume of output that resulted from his production model meant that more of Chihuly’s work found its way into public collections all over the world and became even more familiar to more people through the museum exhibitions, lavishly illustrated books and public television documentaries organized and produced by his own company.
All of which bought Chihuly criticism in some art circles for being too removed from actually making his work himself, for being more of a brand than an artist — and in a sense, almost for being too successful. But he’s more popular than ever with general audiences.
His current show at Arthur Roger Gallery, on view through July, brings the sprawling Chihuly empire back down to a more intimate scale.
For gallery owner Arthur Roger, Chihuly’s ninth show at the gallery in 25 years represents the continuation of a cherished tradition.
“We first exhibited Dale’s work in 1991 before he hung his magnificent glass chandeliers over the canals in Venice and became a household name,” Roger said. “It’s been a wonderful friendship and he continues to impress with the ability to make every exhibit a unique experience.”
Included in the current show are three examples from that same “Chandelier” series, some of which consist of over 1,000 individual glass components. They have become some of Chihuly’s most recognizable works.
They’re also among his own favorites. “I wanted to explore glass hanging because in architecture, I love how a chandelier can change a space and make it work,” he said in a statement about the show.
Indeed, the chandeliers on display in the exhibition transform the gallery into an otherwordly forest, suspended as they are from the ceiling like alien pods from the ceiling of a cave. For viewers accustomed to craning their necks to take in Chihuly’s glass ceilings at places like the Bellagio, the opportunity to look at the chandeliers’ sinuously twisting and slightly malevolent glass tentacles up close is a revelation.
But it’s another piece in the show that seems especially well suited to a New Orleans gallery environment: “Neodymium Reeds on Burned Log,” made of two dozen phosphorescent glass tendrils sprouting from a singed log of Western red cedar, looks like something straight out of a swamp fever dream.
Viewed against the backdrop of the artist’s “Fiori” pieces, which are arranged like window boxes around the perimeter of the gallery space, the effect is as though Chihuly — or Chihuly Inc. — has created a fantastical botanic garden on Julia Street.