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Me and Alice: In Chihuly Land
Another approach to Chihuly's work might be embedded in the title of the MFA show: "Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass." The pop-culture reference is obvious, but as I descended into the bunker-like Gund Gallery in the basement of the MFA Art of Americas Wing, I felt the Alice label was only the beginning of a journey. Maybe Chihuly for all his twirls and twists and whimsy and wackiness is really an artist of the remix.Here are all the associations I made while walking through the exhibition (backward first, and then forward aided by wall narratives): the poster for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, a Mozart overture, I Dream of Jeannie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (with Gene Wilder), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (with Johnny Depp), every touristy store in Venice, a chemical stew of nuclear waste, Disney World's It's a Small World and mutations in nature after a post-apocalyptic disaster. (Sorry, I have no image for that.)
Yes, I feel the love in Chihuly's work, too. But I also felt as if I had stumbled upon a mad scientist's secret (and very moodily organized) laboratory that investigates the impact of over-loving Italy, primary colors and drugs.Barbara Rose, who wrote about Chihuly in 2000, called the artist a "mischievous, cunning, inspired shaman--a magician, a contemporary Merlin, a Ken Kesey Merry Prankster who produces the psychedelic experience of a magical, glowing, and sparkling, brilliantly alive panorama without drugs. This enchanted glass world has as much to do with Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz as it does with the great Renaissance and Baroque festivals that sovereigns arranged to entertain their courts and subjects."
So I guess I'm not alone. But I'm also not put off, pissed off or particularly captivated by Chihuly. To me, his work is puzzling in the most engaging sense of the word. Best of all, seeing his creations made me curious to know more about his influences outside of RISD and Venice. Through the Looking Glass got me thinking about the history of glass art in this country -- and that got me climbing up the vaulting Americas Wing staircase. And wouldn't you know, three floors higher: works by two of the most famous glass pros -- Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge.
In the end, the experience reminded me of what I like best about art: It sends you on a quest. Like Alice down the rabbit hole.
Photos: Alicia Anstead