Since Picasso and Chihuly are both in the news in Seattle, some artists on Facebook have been debating the merits and meaning of them.
Emily Pothast wrote:
Emily Pothast may or may not find the time to write something about the populist appeal of both Chihuly and Picasso, and why it ultimately does not matter in the least what artists, art professionals, and other people who regularly pay attention to art think of them because we're not even close to being their target audience.
Elena Wendelyn wrote:
Picasso is vast like Russia - whatever you say about him would be right, Chihuly, on the other hand.... never even had to fight for his works to be accepted (take Guernica for the obvious example). May be it would be better to write about techniques that can market art not widely recognized as such.
Picasso is so much easier to talk about because he's dead and he's foreign. Chihuly, on the other hand, as I've written before, is incredibly difficult to discuss intelligently, without the conversation seeming to devolve into haters versus lovers.
I realized in a conversation earlier this week with Tim Detweiler (he heads the James and Janie Washington Foundation) that there's a complex psychology to the way we value as-yet-unrealized projects like the Chihuly museum.
I've come out in favor of Open Platform, which calls for openness and possibility but has not named any names or been specific about projects. In their context, openness feels to me like a making-room, like something positive.
But at the same time I've taken Chihuly's refusal to be specific as negative. He's refused to specify what he intends to do in this space, except to say back in March at a press conference at which he didn't take questions that he intends it to be "many of the best [glass] installations that I've ever done." That feels like a greatest hits. He's also specified that the artwork will not rotate but be a fixed exhibit.
In both cases, it's a matter of trust. You have to trust the players in order to back the plan. I guess it's true that I don't trust Chihuly, that I see him as a diva and a distant planet. When I heard last night that he is currently installing 16 chandeliers in the royal airport in Kuwait, I just didn't know what to think.
I like and respect Tim Detweiler, and he urged me to trust in Chihuly, saying he has the strongest hope that the installation will not be a greatest hits, and that a Chihuly museum would be a sort of trickle-down artonomics drawing attention and money to lesser known artists in Seattle. Detweiler is motivated in part because his wife, Michelle Bufano, runs Pratt Fine Arts Center over in the Central District, and part of Chihuly's project will include hosting fundraisers for Pratt (specifically to fund a scholarship for an emerging artist: this is not a get-rich scheme on the part of Pratt, which is just a classic, barely-making-it nonprofit that gives back much more than it takes in) and Pilchuck Glass School (also a good nonprofit that gives artists opportunities). (Chihuly's project also wants to work to bring in eighth graders for free.)
But Detweiler is also motivated because he is noticing, as I've been, the way that the current system of nonprofits is exhausting and even failing. Even big nonprofits like Seattle Art Museum are struggling. He's seeing the Chihuly Museum as a possible out-of-the-box revenue source, again, this trickle-down artonomics idea—that the museum will not only help bring money to other artists in the city, but also direct attention their way.
I'd really love to believe that a Chihuly museum means good things for other Seattle arts, but it's a hard sell for me. After all, this is an artist who is installing 16 chandeliers in Kuwait right now. He has more power than the people commissioning him, and the freedom to do pretty much whatever he wants. He doesn't have to justify himself to anyone, because he's already that big. So essentially a Chihuly Museum means being at the mercy of Chihuly. Maybe I'm just afraid of what's already true.