Class Art

How to Explain Why You Feel How You Feel When You’re Standing in Dale Chihuly’s New Museum

Class Art

Kelly O

I was standing outside Dale Chihuly's private new vanity museum, surrounded by swarms of unusually tan people, thinking about the first time I'd ever seen his work. One of the side effects of spending years as an art critic in Tacoma and Seattle is that you have to become sort of a Chihuly expert. When I came across it at the Tacoma Art Museum in 1999, I had never heard of him before, and I was leaning in to get a better look at the baubles along a wall when I smacked my head into a glass display case. Loudly. The case was so pristine I hadn't even seen it. It's not just the work that can be painful to look at, but the invisible issues that surround the work.

While Chihuly has garnered legions of fans (some tan) and legions of haters (the people who once organized a "Smash a Chihuly" party, say), very little actual discernment is applied to his works. Part of this is his fault. Normal museums are arbiters—literally staffed with tastemakers—but Chihuly's museum is staffed with people who work directly for him. If his museum is tasteless, that is by design. He decides how the art looks and how it is talked about by tour guides. He also owns his own press, which makes his books; other artists have catalogs published by institutions like the Getty, with essays by critics and scholars. He has built a nearly omnipotent promotions machine. It doesn't matter what anybody says. He runs the show.

There are plenty of vanity museums, yes, but they're typically reserved for the dead.

And yet Chihuly has never been typical. He is a working-class Tacoma boy turned millionaire art machine. His stuff sells for big money. It can be popular. One stand-alone sculpture at Chihuly Garden and Glass, a pointy cactuslike tower made of lime-colored reeds that sits in the garden outside, somewhat visible to passersby who don't pay the $19 admission fee, has a larger twin at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. People loved it so much that regular folks—including schoolchildren—raised more than $1 million to keep it there permanently. Again, this is unusual: Moneyed donors usually cough up money for acquisitions, not the ragtag public.

I receive a text as I'm writing this—I'm not making this up—with a picture of two garish spheres of blobbily nested glass in a case with a plaque. "Hospital? Office tower? Courthouse?" I text back, knowing immediately it is a Chihuly, wondering where it has been spotted. They are everywhere, and this is something that only people from Seattle (and Tacoma) notice. A California airport this time, it turns out. Then, "The plaque describes him as very important."

Important why? Curators and historians of art will tell you that Chihuly "put glass art on the map!" This is exactly what Greg Bell, who made his name as a curator at Tacoma Art Museum and has graduated to become Paul Allen's private curator, said to me at the grand gala opening. Bell is a witty and pragmatic man, an artist himself and a perfect Northwest type. (His own art is often made of the archetypically Northwest material of wood.) This "glass on the map" thing sounds specious at first, because glass is an insensate material, not a cause to champion. But if you care about art, you have to admit a deeper point, too: Art history is a series of doors opening to allow in previously excluded, underdog materials, and those materials end up reformulating the possibilities of what art can be. Glass is still not a mainstream medium, but it has shed most of its stigma, in part thanks to the idyllic Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, which Chihuly founded in 1971. Every summer, leading artists who don't have any prior commitment to glass make pilgrimages to study there—to see what glass might offer their ideas. (It's also a lab where glass artists freely experiment, grow, and innovate, and there's a program for training glass craftpersons; glass is most often made in teams.)

And let's not lie: You're going to find yourself at this new museum at some point. Chihuly Garden and Glass has already called itself "a permanent addition" to Seattle Center, even though its lease says it's temporary. This is ours now.

Remember when new museums were the norm around here? When everybody was expanding or renovating or building anew? In those days, you often talked about the architecture first, so let's start there: At Chihuly Garden and Glass, the architects (Owen Richards Architects) should have asked for anonymity. They were retrofitting a crappy old warehouse and dolling it up with an open-sided greenhouse that makes you long desperately for the grand-dame Victorian greenhouse at Volunteer Park Conservatory (which is in danger of closing but could be rescued for a measly few million dollars—now, supporting that would be a gift to the city of Seattle). The architecture of Chihuly Garden and Glass is a big Oh, well.

As far as interior spaces, the galleries are dungeons. They have no windows, the ceilings press downward, and the walls are black. And they're small. Part of the reason for the success of Mille Fiori, Chihuly's awesomely, madly excessive installation at Tacoma Art Museum in 2003, was its size. It looked like an enormous tropical swamp in bloom set on a huge platform of black reflective glass, and it sat in what was then the largest museum gallery in the entire Northwest, so broad and with ceilings so high that a sloop could set off in it. The version of Mille Fiori at Chihuly Garden and Glass is downsized and less dense, with fewer pieces of glass. It's a malnourished cousin. Chihuly needs scale and excess. Chihuly Garden and Glass, as former Seattle Art Museum director Derrick Cartwright remarked as he was leaving the gala opening, "is surprisingly restrained." Restrained is not a good thing for Chihuly's work. Take away the gaudiness and there's little left.

People kept asking, "Is this new work?" The answer is yes and no. It's meant to be a review of what he's already made. Given the way Chihuly art works, the better question would be "Are there any new visual ideas here?" The promenade of rooms chronicles his series and packages over the years: Glass Forest, Northwest Room, Sealife Room, Persian Ceiling, Mille Fiori, Ikebana and Float Boat, Chandeliers, Macchia Forest, Glasshouse, and Garden. The ideas are old. But the actual glass is most likely a combination of archival pieces—Chihuly has acres of storage—and newly blown parts added to the inventory.

The one truly new visual idea in the museum is that he's fully outing himself as a grand master hoarder. He collects things. And his collections of Americana—everything from vintage Edward Curtis photographs to Pendleton blankets to toy train cars to bottle openers to lawn sculptures—are terrific. They're a little creepy in their excess, but even that is interesting (though I'm not sure it was necessary to hang cases of hundreds of bottle openers on the walls of the men's and women's restrooms).

I first saw Chihuly's collections years ago, when I was invited into one of his Tacoma warehouses. It was some Willy Wonka shit in there. The walls went higher than I could see (or at least that's how my imagination remembers them), where objects in every shape and color were thematically lined up. It was a museum that nobody was seeing. After that, I used to lie awake at night just thinking what wonders you'd see if you lifted the tops off of the old manufacturing buildings he'd bought downtown. What's at Seattle Center is just a tiny taste of this wonderland. The first glimpse of it is in the Northwest Room, where the walls are lined with Curtis photographs and the brilliant designs of rows and rows of Pendleton blankets, along with early Chihuly baskets and some of the woven Northwest Native American baskets that inspired them.

The trouble here is that this room, again, is a paltry version of an exhibition called Dale Chihuly's Northwest that took place in the summer of 2011 at Tacoma Art Museum (which was itself a reference to a room at Chihuly's Seattle home studio, the Boathouse). The TAM exhibition was spectacular, full of baskets borrowed from the nearby Washington State History Museum, and with several great examples of Chihuly's own early glass baskets from TAM's collection. At Chihuly Garden and Glass, I had to wonder whether the Chihuly baskets were second-rate early pieces that hadn't sold and were lying around, or knockoffs recently made, because they were bland and repetitive—while Chihuly's best early baskets are terrific. When I brought this up at the gala, a curator said he'd heard Chihuly had trouble getting enough of his own inventory for this museum. So much of it has been sold or given to collectors and museums already. Chihuly Garden and Glass is not the definitive Chihuly experience, despite the sales pitch.

Where the private collections of Americana come into their own is in the museum's cafe. Each table contains its own display case you look down into right underneath your plates and silverware. The reservations desk is about to get lots of requests; people were already picking favorites. There are transistor radios and inkwells and citrus juicers and shaving brushes and dogs made of metal and Christmas ornaments and antique play trailers and boats and cars. I like the bottles shaped like people and shoes made of mercury glass, but it was hard to pick. The charm is real. So is the heavy dollop of nostalgia. I hope it won't be like the Space Needle's sky-high restaurant, where the food is overpriced and undergood because the view brings in the money. Here, you gaze into the horizon of mid-century America. (Too bad about the Chihuly paintings on the walls. His effluvic messes are rumored to be made by broom, which splatters paint on his sneakers, and then he distributes the sneakers.)

The rest of the art experiences are a mixed bag. The Macchia Forest comes closest to being an immersive, transporting environment. It's a richer, bigger, more glowing presentation of Chihuly's big, thin-walled, spotted bowls than I've ever seen. The Macchias—the title is Italian for "spot"—sit proudly on their pedestals, each one like a peacock on fire. Ikebana and Float Boat is sort of like Chihuly's version of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It's funny seeing all that colored glass treasure crammed into little boats that rest on a sea of black reflective glass, like some Faustian bargain is the only thing keeping them from sinking under all the glassy weight.

The Persian Ceiling is depressing if you've seen the outdoor version on the Chihuly Bridge of Glass in Tacoma, where the sun—or the haunting gray Northwest sky—illuminates the glass with all the aliveness of the sky itself. Here, the ceiling of dully artificially lit glass is intersected by a grid of overweening wooden beams that segment the view. His Bellagio ceiling in Las Vegas is another comparison point that makes this one just look sad: At the Bellagio, the lighting is artificial (of course! It's Vegas!), but the glass is uncontained and instead spilling out above your head as though it's going to crush you at any second. It's fantastic and awful all at once: That's the best of Chihuly.

The orangey-red anemones that soar in a spiral pattern in the air of the Glasshouse are like the Monarch Window at Tacoma's Union Station released into three dimensions. It's a nice adaptation, setting those butterflies flying. The earliest piece and first gallery you encounter, Glass Forest, is a curious outer-spacey corner involving neon. The Garden outdoors has some clever landscaping moves and some heinous color clashes; it varies. When you're in the Sealife Room and you see a greasy-whitish octopus that looks like a testicle that has exploded its semen, you're not crazy. That's what's there.

Dale Chihuly is going to be 71 years old in September. His father, George, was a butcher who became a traveling union organizer. After he died suddenly at age 51 of a heart attack (caused in part by grief after Dale's only brother was killed in a military training accident one year before), George left some debt, so Dale's mother, Viola, went to work as a barmaid at the Parkway Tavern in Tacoma. Dale worked for the railroad, then on the assembly line at the Hygrade meatpacking plant.

If Chihuly's art and career are about longing and ambition, they're also about class.We often talk around this when we talk about Chihuly, even as we painfully bump our heads against the issue.

Which brings me back to the tan people in the garden. They'd bought expensive tickets to be there. Most of them there were die-hard supporters. These are the people who probably have Chihuly glass in their homes. Having a tan is a funny thing in Seattle. It makes you look like this is not your habitat. Or maybe you've just returned from somewhere brighter? Or you're prematurely ready to go? A tanned person in Seattle in May is flaunting mobility. Maybe you could say a tan here is a sign of wealth in motion, not stable wealth, not family money—maybe it's a sign of being nouveau riche.

Chihuly gets a lot of disdain for the style of his wealth, but all art museums rest on wealth. It's just usually more camouflaged. Chihuly, who is new to wealth, sells art to people new to wealth. He's a Tacoman with his own museum in Seattle. And it's full of art made of glass, a derided, minor material. Take that, historical hierarchy. Though Chihuly's vanity museum is in Seattle, it is not of Seattle. He put it there by hook or by crook. He is a product not only of a working-class family, but of a working-class city. Why hide your upward mobility with good taste when you've made it so far flying in the face of those who excluded you?

What I can appreciate in Chihuly's career, in his aesthetic, and in his tanned gala is how his story reveals something very human about striving to be recognized. Chihuly Garden and Glass is a naked chest of booty. Its ambition, pride, and lust are conspicuous. (Kids won't see any of this, but keen adults will, and that's how it should be—kids will love this place, by the way.) Naked climbing might be off-putting to the comfortably middle-class, and it probably hits too close to home for those with family money. But as the class gap widens and there's less of a middle, it might make sense to ask what Chihuly's treasure chest looks like to those who are truly struggling in a society where vast and growing inequality is the rule. Maybe, for increasing numbers of people, the only way to see even middling, ostentatious wealth like Chihuly's (after all, he's not Paul Allen or Bill Gates) is as a wild—and beautiful—fantasy. recommended


Comments (69) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Great article. It leaves me wondering what circumstances will eventually lead me to this museum.

Is that yellow and red glass tree just sitting out in the open of the Seattle Center?

Posted by cliche on May 23, 2012 at 9:01 AM · Report this
Oh my gosh! A negative Chihuly review in The Stranger! What a surprise!

I'm willing to bet that the article was written before Jen Graves even set foot in the exhibit.

A minor correction: Admission is $19 for tourists. For us locals, it's $15.
Posted by Dingle Berries on May 23, 2012 at 10:13 AM · Report this
camlux 3
"This is ours now?" It may be ours, and it may also be like the crazy, disfigured relative who is kept locked in the basement. Chihuly is now our not so secret shame.
Posted by camlux on May 23, 2012 at 10:36 AM · Report this
Lovely review and class analysis. I like him a little bit, after learning he grew up working class. I had heard "vanity press," but not "vanity museum" before. I like it.
Posted by Oscar M http://oscarmcnary.wordpress.com/ on May 23, 2012 at 11:38 AM · Report this
bedipped 5
Your description of Chihuly's obsessive collections makes me wonder where he intersects with Joseph Cornell, who created small, tasteful, mad, balanced, craft-based sculptures as befitted his well-to-do origins and later reduced circumstances.
I was delighted years ago by Chihuly's videos during PBS telethons(w/ sound off) but felt no need to explore further. His name/fame glass game have provided funding and training to help push the edge of amazing things occurring with glass in art, and that's a huge positive for Seattle and the art world.
Posted by bedipped on May 23, 2012 at 12:13 PM · Report this
Texas10R 6
"...smacked my head into a glass display case. Loudly. The case was so pristine I hadn't even seen it. It's not just the work that can be painful to look at, but the invisible issues that surround the work."

Oh Seattle, you have come so far in your travels of art criticism.
Posted by Texas10R on May 23, 2012 at 2:59 PM · Report this
It's so painful to read Jen's bullshit about Chihuly. "I was standing outside Dale Chihuly's private new vanity museum, surrounded by swarms of unusually tan people". That's just stupid. Jen is trying to insult the people going to the exhibit to justify the rest of her full of shit little article.

Listen Jen, I was there. So were a ton of other Stranger readers, editors, and writers. And guess what, they loved it. It's fine to not be a huge Chihuly art fan. I myself won't be buying anything. But the amount of space you waste writing this shit over and over has become a joke. It's like you hope to somehow justify your define yourself by being the Seattle art world's David against it's Goliath. The only problem is, as you even go on to write, Dale is more the local poor kid made good who helps the scene rather than an outside invader who wants to crush it. You're just off base. And your repetition of this theme is boring. Worse than being loved or hated it being boring, and this is where your analysis of Chihuly is. You won't be any more relevant than you currently aren't by trying to get attention for taking on Dale. Time to move on and do something with yourself.

Posted by Meinert on May 23, 2012 at 3:06 PM · Report this
Sounds like 2 and 7 like bad art. Too bad you guys.
Posted by mavnwieahiegalwe on May 23, 2012 at 4:18 PM · Report this
@7, whoa... why take it so personally? I thought the article was well-written and informative, giving some context to the issues surrounding Mr. Chihuly's work. It's not like Jen insulted your grandmother or anything... I do think your "analysis" that being loved or hated is better than boring is why I'm not a fan of Chihuly, I find his work just kind of 'meh'. Though, reading this and hearing about his Horatio Alger story, makes me appreciate it a lil' more.
Posted by stu ungar on May 23, 2012 at 4:53 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 10
@7: And your responses aren't predictably tiring?

The article was much more nuanced than you give it credit for. Certainly more positive than usual.
Posted by undead ayn rand on May 23, 2012 at 4:54 PM · Report this
Yes, Meinert, it was good seeing you there. There weren't any other Stranger editors or writers there that night, except Cienna; I brought her. I'm not sure what your pants are in a wad about, but I think you miss my real feeling for all of this. Oh, well.
Posted by Jen Graves on May 23, 2012 at 5:05 PM · Report this
Jen - sorry, you're right. The editors were they for the private showing I was also at. I was mixing them together.

If I missed your true feelings, then by all means please explain it. I just read this utterly off base negative shit. Besides its repetition being boring and just overly done at this point, some of it just truly doesn't make sense. But go ahead, explain please.
Posted by Meinert on May 23, 2012 at 5:58 PM · Report this
This same piece was displayed In La Jolla last year. The garden of tall colored glass shards stuck into the ground was nice too. whatever....the best part of the exhibit was this glass tree in front of the setting sun, nature wins!
Posted by sdqt on May 23, 2012 at 5:59 PM · Report this
I love Chihuly's glass work. It's distinctive, and I recognize it for what it is on sight. But more than that, there is a sensuousness in the fluidity of the glass that I find breathtaking. And like any art form, any one person's appreciation of it is highly subjective.

I thought the reference to the very tan people was a polite way of saying not locals. As a not local of Seattle, I'd pay whatever asking price to go to this museum.
Posted by catballou on May 23, 2012 at 6:08 PM · Report this
Well said.

This brings to mind the old fairy tale of an art world divided, the David against Goliath, if you will( @7's reference). The so and so's versus the so and so's, you know that age old struggle we've been told about over years in academia, around the proverbial art history campfire, artist against the forces of evil. Does it seem a bit like many, many, now revered, great past art movements that were scandalized and maligned at the time and now sit in hallowed halls? Is this 'vanity museum' one of those future hallowed halls? The question here is, what side of the issue does Jen fall on? Be she an idiot or a damned smart art critic? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, Jen, you are INTERMINABLY boring in this regard and on this subject matter and really, move on and grow past this behavior, fight the urge within. It's not becoming an intelligent(?) figure such as yourself. So stop with the shit, it HAS become a joke, no joke! You could do SO much better, so do better! Being a self admitted Chihuly expert and all, couldn't you do better, I think yes.
Posted by sticksnstones on May 23, 2012 at 6:58 PM · Report this
lauramae 16
I saw the exhibit at the TAM, and was struck by the studied and purposeful anonymity of Indians as merely a prop for the glass "baskets." I hate Edward Curtis shit. And seeing the rows and rows of anonymous brown faces displayed so high up that you are only aware that they are brown faces without identity pissed me off. And the real works of art, the Native baskets were made to be entirely without identity. No tribe, no artist names, nothing. Props. As for the glass baskets. They sucked in comparison.

The images from the vanity museum shows me that Chihuly has covered Chihuly in miniature of the other places Chihuly exists.
Posted by lauramae on May 23, 2012 at 7:39 PM · Report this
Just Jeff 17
You know those storms where hail the size of golfballs rain down upon the southwest?

We should have one of those. That would be cool.
Posted by Just Jeff on May 24, 2012 at 1:26 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 18
I must say, I read this piece as being nuanced and strongly ambivalent about Chihuly and his art, and then got into the comments to see a bunch of really defensive Chihuly fans.

Did @2 and @7 actually read the article? Can they actually read?
Posted by Canadian Nurse on May 24, 2012 at 8:06 AM · Report this
Jen Graves you are a sham and an a useless critic. Also, I think your comments on "tan people" are somewhat racist, as I am a person of color who was there. Got something against colored skin?

Do something better with your time and stop being a hater. It's very unattractive.
Posted by Eat Meat on May 24, 2012 at 8:50 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 20
@19: Seeing as she's married to a black man, I think Jen can tell the difference between people of colour and white people with tans.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on May 24, 2012 at 9:08 AM · Report this
@18, seriously, I thought the same... it feels like reading comprehension is not a strong suit of @7, but certainly being prick-ish is, especially considering the subtitle of the article is "How to Explain..." It's alright if something doesn't make sense to you and sincerely question it, but to celebrate one's ignorance is kind of sad.
Anyhow, I read the article again wondering if I had missed something, instead this line jumped out at me - "When you're in the Sealife Room and you see a greasy-whitish octopus that looks like a testicle that has exploded its semen, you're not crazy. That's what's there." LOVE IT, JEN!
Posted by stu ungar on May 24, 2012 at 9:29 AM · Report this
GlamB0t 22
@18 I agree. This is very well written and gives great exposure to the artists past. For me it also gave insight as to why she (and others) are so disappointed with this place. Thanks, Jen.

I do think that tourists or folks who haven't been immersed in the Pacific North West glass art world can still enjoy this garden/museum. It will be sad to see some pieces in confined places when (it's my understanding) his installations are more on the grand scale. This won't keep me from going and checking it out though.

Regarding the "tan" people. My super white, is probably your super tan. I'm not from here, and I also fake bake. Not as often as that crazy mom, but once every few months (or before vacationing on a beach). I need the UV's guys or I get all antsy in my pantsy.
Posted by GlamB0t on May 24, 2012 at 9:30 AM · Report this
Jeebuz Dave, talk about boring repetition - there's really nothing more tiring than listening you blow Dale's fire-glazed hyaloid cock several times a day.
Posted by COMTE on May 24, 2012 at 10:54 AM · Report this
funnylittlemunki 24
The man and his work are horribly gaudy, and I find the work to be repetitive and boring. It's nothing new, for sure, BUT it is a big new colorful tourist attraction and I people will undoubtedly have fun looking at it. Regular folks love art they recognize and understand, because it makes them feel smart. It doesn't threaten their ideas or make them feel stupid by introducing concepts that are unfamiliar. It doesn't push any boundaries, so people are comfortable viewing it. Like the SAM. (Unlike the Frye, which displays some pretty out there stuff, which requires letting yourself be uncomfortable trying on some new ideas or feeling emotions that are less than pleasant) The Chihuly garden is art for the masses. Which isn't great, but at the same time, if it gets regular people to get sucked into art even a little bit, I suppose it's worth it.
Posted by funnylittlemunki on May 24, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Report this
Terrific review and article Jen. Thanks.
Funny I don't read it as negative as some have suggested. I think your last 3 paragraphs, particularly the 2nd to last, really sum up the sentiment.
And, Meinert, what's your problem? You are sounding like a ranting old lunatic. You might not agree with Jen's point of view but at least her writing is coherent. You're not really making any sense.
Posted by tacomagirl on May 24, 2012 at 11:53 AM · Report this
these chihuly supporters should actually read the article - idiots
Posted by asdfaergsdfgfdg on May 24, 2012 at 1:27 PM · Report this
I can see the pov from both sides of the thread but there is a history of Chihuly bashing and a certain Seattle nicety in the piece, carefully framing the story, but the underlying contempt does seem evident. I don’t think class is relevant to the discussion as I know plenty of working folks and those who will never buy a major artwork who run away to Mexico during spring break or whatever vitamin D is no longer enough. Just seems like a polite way to try and say something to create tension where it shouldn’t be. For an opening event I assume there will be wealthy people, ever been to SAM, Opera, Ballet, Symphony or any major event and not see all strata of individuals?
Like it (or him) or not, Dale Chihuly is a living, world renowned master artist and that’s important. Seattle is known for glass art and so many other art forms and glass artists here and everywhere owe a great deal to him for Pilchuk and pioneering glass as a medium and industry to what it is today.
Chihuly Garden and Glass is a great thing for the city and Seattle Center. It will be a shot in the arm for tourism and bring more people together at the great cultural epicenter of our community (like TUT at PSC or the Ring Cycle of the Opera). The cost is comparable to other attractions and if you don’t want to pay, look at the works in the garden from the outside or as you ascend/descend the needle.
Posted by wondering on May 24, 2012 at 1:33 PM · Report this
@Meinert, I did explain. Above. I have no idea why it's so personal for you, but as you can see, plenty of people didn't read the piece the way you did.
Posted by Jen Graves on May 24, 2012 at 1:33 PM · Report this
Wanda Fooka 29
Congratulations to the Wright family and Chihuly Studios for creating this fine exhibition at the Seattle Center. Happy 50th to the Space Needle.
Posted by Wanda Fooka on May 24, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
Jen, the paint/splatter/boots thing is no myth. I watched it happen more than once.
Posted by anonymouse321 on May 24, 2012 at 2:32 PM · Report this
aardvark 31
Jen, cut out the first couple paragraphs and the last couple, where your "thesis" supposedly lives. just a load of petty jealousy is all im getting. i love a good talk about art and class but all im getting here is that you dont relate to wealthy people. so? art needs wealthy people. old trophy wives in crushed purple velvet? art needs those people. in the past your complaint for this museum was that they should be supporting some upstart young hipster art. i don;t even see this here. you have just made up your mind to hate it. so, the middle part of this, your experience with chihuly is interesting, not from a critical perspective, but in an anecdotal way.

your criticism is really reaching here. artist w pr machine, commercially successful, and beautiful? for shame!

from reading this i just feel sorry for your miserable, childish attitude. maybe get out of town for a while, do something else. come back with a less bitchy attitude and write an adult piece about how this is great, but it would also be great to see some support for a nearby contemporary arts venue, even though NW contemporary art pales in significance to what Chihuly has done in glass.
Posted by aardvark on May 24, 2012 at 4:54 PM · Report this

'beware how you take away the hope of another man"


o.w. holmes

Posted by northwest mystic on May 24, 2012 at 6:57 PM · Report this
Wouldn't it have been nice to have an upbeat, even toned, and well written article about what 'Chihulytown' is all about? What was good and exciting about the venue and what wasn't? Instead of a bitchy angry nobody who has to tear it all down around her to elevate her own sadly compromised sense of stature and self worth as a critic? Get off the negative trip and quit taking the cheap shot, mean girl track Jen. A little therapy might do you some good OR as 'aardvark' said-get out of town for awhile and do something else, seriously, it's a damn good idea. You need to do something. It's getting really boring and old.
...I'm just sayin'
Posted by northwest mystic on May 24, 2012 at 7:10 PM · Report this
WOW! What article did you people read exactly? @7,27,31,33...you totally missed the point and are projecting something bizarre onto this review. Where exactly is the bitchy, angry Chihuly bashing? I've read it twice now and I just don't get it.
Posted by tacomagirl on May 24, 2012 at 10:44 PM · Report this
MarkyMark 35
What a vituperative group of little hornets have shown up at the party! Just the concept of people who passionately feel the need to defend Chihuly's high-end decorative arts for the wealthy is beyond bizarre and quite amusing. Its like a group of grannies organizing to defend the integrity of their Thomas Kinkade masterpieces.
Posted by MarkyMark on May 24, 2012 at 11:39 PM · Report this
Wanda Fooka 36
Well, why do people (and this lightweight reporter) passionately feel the need to attack the Chihuly exhibit? It's really a rambling piece of crappy writing.
Posted by Wanda Fooka on May 25, 2012 at 1:03 AM · Report this
jp 37
All I have to say is that when I see "Tacoman," I read it as "Taco Man," and that makes it infinitely better.
Posted by jp http://vegetablecow.wordpress.com on May 25, 2012 at 10:08 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 38
@36 the tinkle of broken glass ...
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on May 25, 2012 at 10:28 AM · Report this
Puty 39
This obviously isn't a negative, hate-filled screed. Read, people. Geez.
Posted by Puty on May 25, 2012 at 10:32 AM · Report this
Seattle's own version of Thomas Kinkade
Posted by yumyum74 on May 25, 2012 at 11:05 AM · Report this
I think people are confusing bias against Chihuly with justifiable disappointment with the exhibits in comparison to older ones. "It is not the definitive Chihuly experience" -- and that is unfortunate.

Sounds like an okay place other than the price and the fact that he is enough of a control freak to staff the whole place himself. Turn off.
Posted by Swearengen on May 25, 2012 at 11:14 AM · Report this
I'd love a chihuly bong.
Posted by jns on May 25, 2012 at 11:41 AM · Report this
Can we start calling it the Sad Forest?
Posted by Subdued Excitement on May 25, 2012 at 12:01 PM · Report this
44 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Thanks for the piece on the Chihuly Museum. I found it well thought out and quite reasonable.

No wonder so many of the posters here hated it.

The slightest media criticism of (fill in the blank with your favorite Seattle business, sports or cultural icon) invariably brings forth howls of protest.

That said I'm glad that if we have to have a larger than life art star here in Seattle we could do worse than Dale Chihuly. Incredibly generous and supportive of thousands of artists and charitable causes over the years.

And, if you ever have a chance to shake his paw, a nice guy.

Posted by Richard Thurston on May 25, 2012 at 12:52 PM · Report this
or maybe you're a member of a mob of angry villagers with pitchforks and torches. only underneath your costumes you're really just part of a funny parody segment from 'Portlandia' being filmed because you show up in life as such a regional, backwoods throwback hippie meets now hipster weirdo that the rest of the world just laughs their ass off while watching you posture and pseudo intellectually rant..
Posted by northwest mystic on May 25, 2012 at 1:06 PM · Report this
Porter Melmoth 47

I greatly enjoyed your edifying article on the Chihuly Museum and its 'Citizen Kane'-like contents. (I wonder if there's a 'Rosebud' tucked in there somewhere...?)

A bit of unscholarly background. As far as 'putting glass on the map', there's no doubt that Chihuly's cartographic contribution is metropolis-sized, but there are also a few small towns out there, as well.

My late dad, Frank Bach, longtime art prof at Central Washington University here in Ellensburg, took a sabbatical in 1967 in search of American glass artists. He found them in the persons of Harvey Littleton in Wisconsin and Nick Labino in Ohio (I met the latter in his studio as a kid in 1968). As a producer of art education films, Dad filmed a glittering array of both artists' work in their studios in 16mm, but his distributor in LA deemed the film 'unmarketable'. Nevertheless, Dad spearheaded the establishment of a glassblowing program at CWU. Some of the students from that particular program went on to found and strengthen the Pilchuck Glass School, and the gallery in Pioneer Square, and Dad kept up with them. (Sorry, I don't have any names, but early on, Chihuly was only one of several behind the effort.)

If you ask me, it was Labino and Littleton who really put American glass on the map, the first significant glass artists since Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Chihuly is an inheritor of this tradition, and I'm sure he'd fully acknowledge it. But, in the Great American Tradition of self-promotion chutzpah, his showmanship might have you think that nothing came before him. And the inheritors of art history scholarship, who perhaps come up with such marketing phrases like 'on the map', don't strike me as particularly deep. In fact, their levels of investigation seem to stop at mostly superficial levels. But that's another story...

At least the Beatles credited Elvis, but I don't think Elvis ever credited all the African-Americans he borrowed (stole?) from.

PS: Chihuly's work is certainly admirable, but as you pointed out, its application isn't successful in every environment. I agree that the Bellagio setup is a hit, but the yellow 'spit-up stalactite' in the rotunda of the V&A in London seems gratuitous at best. As a brand name, Chihuly's much more Microsoft than Apple. (Crappy analogy, but so is that easily tossed-off 'on the map' thing!)

Thanks for writing such clear, straight-up perspectives on so many subjects.

Best regards,


(Brian Paul Bach)

Posted by Porter Melmoth http://yakkingmelmoth.blogspot.com/ on May 25, 2012 at 2:40 PM · Report this
merry 48
@ 42 and 43 are full of win!
Posted by merry on May 25, 2012 at 3:24 PM · Report this
Rich Jensen 49
If your writing is as shitty and predictable as Meinert says it is, then I guess I really admire shitty writing that I seem to be too clueless to predict.

Meinert was a prominent public backer of the project, a position he took some heat for, and maybe that has something to do with his vitriolic response to the piece. Also, there seems to be some confusion about which event you were reporting on. One, according to Meinert, apparently swarmed with pasty Stranger staff, while perhaps another, according to you, glowed with toasty flesh.

I didn't find your piece to be dismissive. You seemed to be offering DC props where you felt they were due. Mostly, I saw you pointing out the various ways that this Chiluly Museum and this collection were not ideal vehicles for the presentation of his work. To my way of thinking that is the opposite of a smear job.

You habitually ground your observations and impressions in reasoned prose and illuminating asides. I guess that's what makes your writing so shitty and why I so frequently appreciate it.
Posted by Rich Jensen http://cabingames.net on May 25, 2012 at 4:24 PM · Report this
#49 is also full of win.
Posted by flip on May 25, 2012 at 5:58 PM · Report this
OutInBumF 51
Great article, Jen. Excellent summation of 'The Chihuly Experience' to my mind.
This museum has been fraught with kitschy from its inception; that it ended up feeling that way is no surprise. It has always been a tourist attraction to save the center from a tear-down. If it brings in gawking tourists @$19 a head, great. I'll go to TAM for a more genuine experience.
Now- where do we start the 'Save The Volunteer Park Conservatory' campaign? Seattle will never be the same if that's lost.
Posted by OutInBumF on May 25, 2012 at 6:12 PM · Report this
"(Too bad about the Chihuly paintings on the walls. His effluvic messes are rumored to be made by broom, which splatters paint on his sneakers, and then he distributes the sneakers.)"

About ten years ago took a weekend workshop at a lithography studio near lake union. there were stacks of colorful ugly prints of a flower in the studio. The studio owner told me they were "Chihulys." he explained that Chihuly would spend five minutes painting an original and then send it to him. After he printed a bunch a Chihuly employee would come over and slash a bit of paint across the rpint and sign Chihuly's name to it. The they would sell as a limited edition for $1500 each. If he sold them all it was well over a million bucks in return for five minutes of "art making" by the master.

The guy is a capitalist, a genius marketer, your comments about his work having to be large to work reminds me of a comment I once read about photographs: If you can't do it well make it big.
Posted by Critic on May 25, 2012 at 8:03 PM · Report this
interestingstuffisgoodstuff 53
Far from being dull or bitchy, I found the piece full of insights, weighed and fair assessments, all penned in great prose. I've lived in Seattle 13 years and have wanted a good insider/outsider view of Chihuly, now I have it! UW School of Art faculty resisted a glass major for years despite donors who wanted to make it easy. This review helps one understand why. Stranger art critic, you just get better and better. I wish you had a ghost writer so you could tell the idiots who insist on personal comments that you didn't write it just to zip up their lips. As Obama's aides are forced to say, "would you have written that about Clinton?" -- the same goes out to @7, @15 and others. Slinging personal comments at writers due to some unspoken bias while demonstrating an inability to summarize the main points of the article is so transparent... Focus on the content. Such idiot comments make me wish that the Stranger would cut the Slog.
Posted by interestingstuffisgoodstuff on May 26, 2012 at 5:10 AM · Report this
#7 Meinert: how were the drinks and chow at The Boathouse last time Dale had you over for a bite and a Mutual Admiration Society schmooze?

You're a close supporter (and therefore a tool) of The Dale, when you criticize anything else that's not entirely flattering and reverential of The Chihuly Machine.
Posted by BillyT on May 26, 2012 at 10:04 AM · Report this
@47. You are amazing. Thanks for a quality write and insightful intellectualism and information. Something you rarely get around the NW these days. Especially here at 'The Strangler'.

And Jen, this would be your cue to take a look at the work of his father and his films,as well as utilize it as a helpful tool to instigate a proper history and assesment of the NW glass movement in one of your articles. Whether we like it or not, it defines the NW art scene of the last 50 yrs and is without doubt the most far reaching and important art movement we have had emerge since Tobey,Graves,and company in the mid century.
Posted by sticksnstones on May 26, 2012 at 12:43 PM · Report this
I've known Dale for 40 years and studied and worked with him as a youth. I see his work and think of the exuberance and joy he brought to making art – working with a very difficult to handle material – and that's the way I will probably always see it. I don't think of the history of art when I look at his work, i.e. think of glass as "a derided, minor material", but rather get caught up in the lovely spectacle.
Posted by daredesign on May 26, 2012 at 1:22 PM · Report this
Brandon Arkell 57
Well I know I'm not paying $15 to look at a bunch of glass. Especially on land that used to be public.
Posted by Brandon Arkell http://www.brandonarkell.com on May 26, 2012 at 2:37 PM · Report this
Fascinating comments. I love it with trolls dress up in their finest skins and horned helmets and come out to play.

Posted by IdleBySitter on May 27, 2012 at 11:36 PM · Report this
Nice article. One minor correction: the Native Ameican baskets that were included in TAM's exhibition in 2011 were temporarily loaned from the Washington State Historical Society's permanent collection. The Washington State History Museum in Tacoma currently has on permanent display many other baskets like those seen in the exhibit.
Posted by Fred4 on May 28, 2012 at 9:00 AM · Report this
re. comment 59: should be 'Native American' -- late night last night. cheers.
Posted by Fred4 on May 28, 2012 at 9:05 AM · Report this
What about the art? This article reminds me of the TV commercial where the artist is going on and on about this blank white canvas as a finished painting and the person responds saying " You couldn't afford paint again this month could you". Only in this case everything but the art. When I am in the presence of art, these stories hold little to no meaning for me, the work itself is what is important. The work should be able to speak for itself. What did this art have to say today? What does it look like at night, in the day, what feelings does it evoke? Stuff like that. It would be nice to be thinking about the art itself rather than any of these other things or is that what art is all about? Maybe the story about that guy’s ear is more important than what he painted. I know one affects the other but it is strange to me how important these things become, how they overshadow the work, how often the actual art is such a let down after all the hype. It seems people want a story about the artist or the art more than the art itself. What about the ART ?
Posted by What about the ART ? on May 28, 2012 at 10:07 AM · Report this
@57 Who just hung out at the fun forest enjoying the scenery? oh ya the pedophiles. Me, I never spent less than $20 when taking my kid there.
Posted by amy may on May 28, 2012 at 11:01 AM · Report this
The way I hear it Chihuli hasn't done any "hot" work in 20 years. He hires young artists to do the real work and sues them if they start out on their own.
Posted by billwald on May 29, 2012 at 1:11 PM · Report this
I remember the first time I saw Chihuly's work. He was brought in as the "regional" artist to the Salt Lake Art Center for the 2002 Winter Olympics, which was a bit of a slap in the face for artists with ties to the Rockies instead of the Cascades. Mitt Romney was also brought in as something of a cleaner to polish away the "business as usual" taint of Olympic bribery scandals. Back then I was just starting college and had a job inputting data on child abuse stats to cya Gov Mikey, now I've finished grad school and can't find a job living in a city with Mayor Mikey trying to figure out how to cya police abuse stats. How much has changed in the last decade… And how little…
Posted by frida_bandita on May 31, 2012 at 10:43 AM · Report this
Jen, Thank you for popping the glass bubble like a zit. You’ve written an extremely fair and droll appraisal of the Chihuly phenomenon, in a way that helps shield my eyes from the glare of Dale’s immeasurable ego. Reading your critique (which should be distributed at the door of the vanity museum; I have access to a mimeograph machine) offered me a glimpse of my own proletarian compassion for the careering, obsessive-compulsive craftsman.
Posted by deborahfl on June 2, 2012 at 10:24 AM · Report this
Jen, Thank you for popping the glass bubble like a zit. You’ve written an extremely fair and droll appraisal of the Chihuly phenomenon, in a way that helps shield my eyes from the glare of Dale’s immeasurable ego. Reading your critique (which should be distributed at the door of the vanity museum; I have access to a mimeograph machine) offered me a glimpse of my own proletarian compassion for the careering, obsessive-compulsive craftsman.
Posted by deborahfl on June 2, 2012 at 11:11 AM · Report this
Cornichon 67
Brava, Jen! This is the level of arts writing Seattle doesn't see very often. Two things: they're very careful not to call the installation a "museum." And the Glasshouse, I think, will become THE place for the tanned people to hold parties. http://www.cornichon.org/2012/06/the-urg…
Posted by Cornichon http://cornichon.org on June 4, 2012 at 12:12 PM · Report this
Wading through all this cat calling is more than I can take, but Jen, this article is absolutely right on.

Chihuly is all that. Tacky, glorious, lowbrow, highbrow, eloquent, ridiculous and redundant as hell. I have noticed that most every critic who speaks out against him in the glass community eventually finds their way onto his payroll writing books that sing his praises.

His baroque powerhouse drives so many good things and puts many artists to work, but so often sinks under the weight of mediocrity between flashes of brilliance.

Chihuly is, as you rightly say, a working class hometown boy made good.

Posted by hitchcock on June 5, 2012 at 8:27 PM · Report this
his art is pretty, although done by and army of others and void of any deep meaning, but it is pretty. its just insulting to people that put their whole life into the study of art and see the amount of money and acclaim put on someone who just produces pretty surface art.
Posted by an actual working class nobody on June 9, 2012 at 10:06 PM · Report this

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