Chihuly @ NYBG
New York Botanical Garden
As a huge fan of the amorphous shapes and bright colors of Dale Chihuly’s blown glass creations, I knew I had to make the trip to the New York Botanical Garden this summer to see his show. It was the perfect chance to visit a new garden and the experience the works of one of my favorite artists, all in one place. While some of the sculptures were more mind-boggling than others, overall they really heightened my first trip to these impressive gardens.
I’ve seen pictures of Chihuly’s works at the canals of Venice and on display in other outdoor settings, but until this show I had never seen his work outside of a museum. Their colorful forms often read as plant-like, so as a setting, a garden really seemed like a great place for these works to be displayed. Each glass sculpture seemed otherworldly and ethereal but also at home amongst its botanical background.
Three of Chihuly’s signature “chandeliers” hang from the rafters of the visitor’s center, which offer examples of the complex, mesmerizing conglomerations of blown-glass shapes that are set loose in the gardens. Once I was out and exploring, I first came upon a dramatic display of red spears rising from an assemblage of logs above a dark pool of water. While this assemblage was was quite striking, I couldn’t help but be distracted by a glimpse of bright color in the distance.
A flash of a blue flame-like will-o-the-wisp pulled me further into the garden, darting in and out of view. Finally I reached the glimmering mass of semi-tinted glass spears emanating from a deep blue central source, a fantastical frozen crystal star “floating” above the grass in between several large trees. It was almost painful not be able to get any closer, held back by a low chain fence (and the presence of a security guard).
The already-beautiful Native Plant Garden was accentuated with several Chihuly pieces in the large pond that is surrounded by marshland and wildflower-covered hills. In the dark waters just off the boardwalk floats a simple canoe-like structure overflowing with delicate glass spheres in wild colors and patterns, looking as if it had sailed in from some other mystical dimension. Further along a pair of long, flat glass panels made up of squares of color perch atop low cascades of water, making the seemingly-simple designs come to life against the natural backdrop of water, flowers, and sky.
Chihuly’s animated creations exquisitely complemented the main entrance and the lush botanical displays both inside and out of the grand Haupt Conservatory. An explosion of color and energy greets guests as they ascend the stairs out front of the conservatory in the form of a writhing tangle of yellow-green swirling twirls of glass shooting out in all directions. The pure exuberance of this piece is rivaled only by the towering column of flame-colored spears shooting up almost as high as the dome of the greenhouse itself. Within the glass walls, many more sculptures hovered over fountains, leapt towards ceilings, or camouflaged themselves to the tropical plants around them.
It was thoroughly enjoyable to explore the New York Botanical Garden for the first time with Chihuly as my guide. He drew me through the garden with tantalizing sculptures reaching out with glassy tentacles and wild, pulsing colors. I love how these works manage to completely stand out from their surroundings but still retain the organic shapes and forms that make it seem that they were intended to be displayed in nature.