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Home » ARTS AND CULTURE » MASSACHUSETTS » Through the Looking Glass: Chihuly at the MFA
Through the Looking Glass: Chihuly at the MFA

Boston, Massachusetts

By Liane Behrens | July 26, 2011

Through August, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston is hosting a special exhibition entitled Through the Looking Glass by master glass blower Dale Chihuly.

The display features marvelously varied forms of glass work that gives evidence of the artist’s global renown. If you’ve never heard of him before, you’ll never forget him after.

Chihuly first discovered glass blowing while studying interior design at the University of Washington in the sixties. After graduating, he went on to enroll in the country’s first glass program at the University of Wisconsin.

After losing sight in his left eye in a car accident and later damaging the nerves in his shoulder while body surfing, Chihuly has had to step back and guide others to physically create his inventions. In an interview with the Seattle Post Intelligencer, he described himself as now “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.”

Stepping into the fantastical exhibit, one almost expects to see Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter scurrying about. The wonderland presented at the MFA is diverse, spanning from the Lime Green Icicle Tower in the Shapiro Room—a 42-foot tall and 10,000-pound sculpture of green glass spikes hinting at stalagmites and pineapple fronds—to a room filled with six huge chandeliers of different colors and sizes inspired by a trip to Barcelona. “I loved this idea of hanging a chandelier at eye level,” Chihuly writes in his blog. “It triggered something that said now I could make a chandelier, because it doesn’t have to be functional.”

Even a few months into the exhibit at the MFA, the rooms are crowded with excited patrons. As static as glass is usually considered to be, the artist’s creations spark unique reactions from each visitor. His baskets, inspired by the Native American baskets and blanket weaving prominent in his Pacific Northwest home, have been described by viewers as reminiscent of jellyfish, moss, or even Jell-O sculptures. They seem delicate and undulating despite their stationary presence. The baskets range in size from four feet across to less than five inches, yet all are blown to mere millimeters in thickness.

Other parts of the exhibit include the Ikebana Boat, in which Chihuly set dozens of long, leafed, and tentacle-like pieces of colored glass into a long wooden boat in homage to the traditional art of Japanese flower arranging. Chihuly’s combination of the inorganic floral forms with the wooden boat creates a masterful conjunction.

The nearly sixty-foot long installation of Mille Fiori (Italian for “a thousand flowers”) dominates another room in the exhibit. Elements of this piece range from six inches in height to over twenty feet. Each piece of glass has a unique texture and form that highlights the dozens of different techniques Chihuly and his team used in creating these works. While the piece was inspired by flowers, the rippling forms also call to mind an ocean view, complete with coral, seaweed and a pod of friendly seals.

One of the most impressive segments of Through the Looking Glass is when Chihuly deliberately invites visitors to look through the glass. Persian Ceiling is a small room sheathed in a glass-covered ceiling, behind which thousands of intricate and experimental glass forms are housed. The effect of the soft rainbow of light combines the surreal and organic to create a sort of underwater paradise that looks up at the clouds of heaven.

The MFA calls Chihuly “the greatest American artist in glass since Louis Comfort Tiffany,” and the way he guides glass into surprisingly organic forms certainly proves it.


The Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115

(617) 267-9300


Opening Hours:

Mon–Tue: 10AM–4:45PM

Wed–Fri: 10AM–9:45PM

Sat–Sun: 10AM–4:45PM

The Chihuly exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston continues until August 7, 2011.

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