By Kurt Shaw
TRIBUNE-REVIEW ART CRITIC
Friday, August 25, 2006
Pittsburgh Roars may be the mantra in 2006, but 2007 promises to be "The Year of Glass."
One reason is the city will host the Glass Arts Society's 37th annual conference from June 7-9. The five day conference titled "Transformational Matter" will include lectures and demonstrations of blown-glass skills as well as flame-worked glass, cast glass, and flat glass techniques, not to mention tours for attendees who wish to visit local museums, exhibitions, glass factories, collector's homes and the architectural gems of our region.
"We expect 1,500 to 2,000 people to come to town for that," says Sarah Nichols, adjunct curator of decorative arts at Carnegie Museum of Art, who is a member of the group and will give a lecture on Venetian glass at the conference.
But another big reason is that Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will be bringing in world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, a big name in the contemporary studio-glass movement, who will fill Phipps with his colorful, organically inspired glass sculptures that are intended to mirror plant life.
Chihuly has done lots of gardens of glass in conservatories in recent years. Exhibits took place at venues such as the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the United Kingdom last year, and this year at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, Fla., and the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, and now at the New York Botanical Garden. The Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, will open "Fiori: A Chihuly Garden of Glass" on Oct. 7, following up the success of its previous Chihuly exhibit in 2003-04. After the earlier exhibit, 10 donors purchased the collection for the Franklin Park Conservatory, and it remains a permanent part of its collection.
Though the Chihuly exhibition at Phipps will officially open on May 12, it will remain on display through Christmas 2007 with evening hours being offered, beginning in October, on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays so that visitors can appreciate the intricate glass pieces in a new light.
All told, Phipps is estimating attendance of 250,000 during the nine-month period the exhibition will be on display.
"A lot of our peers at other botanical gardens that have had the exhibit have seen a 400 percent increase in attendance," says Karen Daubmann, director of horticulture for Phipps Conservatory. "They've seen their gift shop sales go through the roof. They've had to hire extra personnel for ticketing, security, admissions and also parking-lot attendants, and secure additional parking."
Though Chihuly Studios has yet to design the installation, Daubmann says, "We've begun talking with the people at Chihuly Studios about the beginning stages of the exhibit's design."
Auto-cad drawings and digital photos have been sent back and forth between Chihuly Studios in Seattle and Phipps, says Daubmann, and she predicts initial plans for the installation's design should begin to gel as early as December.
Though arranging some sculptures in and around certain trees and other plants are off limits due to their age or sensitive root systems, Daubmann says Chihuly and his team usually place the works among the more-sturdy and less-exotic flora and fauna. Thus, she says, "I think his pieces will highlight some of our plants which haven't received much notice in many years."
"Dale Chihuly is really sensitive to the environment, and his pieces mimic the beauty of nature," Daubmann says. "A lot of his forms (replicate) the shapes of lily pads or certain leaf patterns, and he incorporates these pieces in a really aesthetically pleasing way."
Having the Chihuly exhibition now is one reason Phipps has undergone major renovations recently, such as the welcome center that was completed in the spring.
"This is a huge undertaking for Phipps," Daubmann says of the exhibit, "but it's going to draw a lot of tourists to Pittsburgh, and it's also going to bring in a lot of money for the city. So, we're pretty excited about it."
Nichols agrees the Chihuly exhibition is "a very exciting prospect for Pittsburgh in 2007."
But, she adds, much of the year will be a "citywide festival of glass" with numerous art galleries and museums planning glass-related exhibitions.
Nichols herself is currently organizing the exhibition "Translations and Transformations: Glass in Venice and America, 1950 -- 2006," which will be on display at Carnegie Museum of Art from May 12-Sept. 16, 2007.
The exhibition will comprise about 125 works dating from the mid-20th century to present day, and will be the largest and broadest exhibition to date that examines the glass links between Venice and America.
Nichols says that in addition to including a historic component of Venetian glass from 1920 to the mid 1980s, the exhibition will include works by such master glass artists as Chihuly, Richard Marquis, Josiah McElheny, Lino Tagliapietra and Toots Zynsky, not to mention new works by lesser-known glass artists, many of whom have never shown in Pittsburgh before. Some of which will be making works specifically for the exhibition.
"We anticipate approximately 90,000 visitors during the Pittsburgh run of "Translations and Transformations: Glass in Venice and America,'" Nichols says. "We look forward to the public's exploration and experience of this medium."
Not to be left out of the loop, the Pittsburgh Glass Center will present "Allure of Japanese Glass," the center's first ever international exhibition of glass artists from Japan, which will be on display from May 4-Oct. 21, 2007.
Organized by renowned Japanese glass artists Harumi Yukutake and Tomoko Aoki, the exhibition will bring together the work of 17 contemporary Japanese artists who work with glass.
"There have been very few shows of contemporary Japanese glass in the U.S., and virtually none that have focused on emerging, rather than established artists," says Janet McCall, glass center program manager. "Most of the artists in this exhibition have never exhibited in this country, which makes our show particularly exciting.
"There is a dynamic contemporary glass-making community in Japan with little or no exposure in the U.S. It's our intention to showcase these artists, introduce some new young faces and make the public aware of the creative energy that exists in glass in Japan." Of course, there are many more exhibitions being planned, perhaps too many and too early to mention here, but for now it's crystal clear: 2007 will be "The year of glass" in Pittsburgh.