From 2010 to 2020: Reflecting on Chihuly at Cheekwood with Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly is one of the most innovative contemporary American artists, and is among the best-known artists working with glass today. Working to unite color, light, form, and space to deliver uniquely immersive experiences, Chihuly has completed ambitious architectural artwork installations all over the world, making him a household name.
In May of 2010, Nashville was not seemingly ready for the impact of Dale Chihuly. At the beginning of the month, the city experienced the largest flood in its history when the Cumberland River crested more than 11 feet above flood level, leaving 10,000 people in the region displaced. Local businesses were shut down and just in a couple weeks, the city’s largest exhibition, spanning two museums, was set to open.
On May 25, 2010, Chihuly at Cheekwood and Chihuly at The Frist opened to the public, welcoming record-number visitors for both institutions. Despite the city’s tragedy, Dale Chihuly’s sculptures united Nashvillians, inspiring them to get out and enjoy what the city still had to offer.
Now in 2020, the city has almost doubled its population in the past 10 years, experiencing incredible growth and prosperity. The Nashville of 2020 feels like an entirely new city and yet, institutions like Cheekwood continue welcoming new visitors, adding to the cultural depth of the city.
Celebrating 60 years of public service, Cheekwood is firmly cemented as a centerpiece for the community, a place for intellectual stimulation, beauty and respite, and serving as a place of solace during these unprecedented times. This year marks the opening of the Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden, as well as the restoration of the Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail and the Blevins Japanese Garden.
Chihuly’s works, responding to the gardens’ natural beauty, are installed throughout the estate, enticing visitors to explore this new iteration of Cheekwood. With 12 outdoor installations, two indoor chandeliers and over 3000-square-feet of museum exhibition, Chihuly is enchanting Cheekwood.
The magic of Chihuly’s glass installations lies in part in their effortless integration into nature. The reflectivity of the glass, the whimsical forms, and the bold colors of his sculptures often complement those found in the spaces in which they inhabit. And to its very core, the natural world, like Cheekwood and Chihuly’s art, is for everyone.
After a three-month postponement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are delighted to present Chihuly at Cheekwood through January 10. In celebration of the extraordinary exhibition, featuring two new site-specific works created for Cheekwood’s landscape, Cheekwood’s Curator, Campbell Mobley, had the opportunity to ask a few questions and further explore Chihuly’s processes and inspiration regarding the exhibition, as well as his reflection on the 2010 exhibition.
A Q&A with Dale Chihuly:
Q: What was your process in selecting objects for this show and how did it differ from that in 2010?
A: I approached this show as I typically do, by reacting to the environment. Having presented my work at the estate and gardens in 2010, I was familiar with the footprints, however, new areas have been developed since, and it felt natural to explore them with this new exhibition. Visitors will have a unique experience this year.
Q: What was your inspiration for the two, new, site-specific works in the exhibition – Golden Amber Persian Chandelier in the Loggia and Gilded Yellow and Plum Tower at the Color Garden arches, and how did Cheekwood inform your decisions?
A: I created a similar Persian Chandelier for a project in London a few years ago and thought the scale would work well for the Loggia. Taking the room into consideration, I played with color, ultimately selecting complementary amber hues. The long vista leading to the arches called for a large-scale installation and a bold color palette. I designed the Tower in tones of rich purples and yellows and believe the result will be striking.
Q: The 2010 exhibition was so beautiful, attracting many first-time visitors that have turned into lifelong members. How does Cheekwood’s landscape so uniquely highlight your work and what inspired you to accept a second show, 10 years later?
A: The footprint of Cheekwood’s garden is large, yet it retains several intimate spaces. I love its rolling hills and spatial variety, as it allows me to create distinct experiences within one vision. Returning in 2020 allows me to explore new ideas and to bring new work to art and garden enthusiasts.
Q: How do the works in this show enlighten the work you are currently doing with the Chihuly Merletto series? What brought on the evolution?
A: One of the key drivers to my artmaking practice is a need to challenge myself and my team. There is a particular energy and satisfaction that comes out of pushing the glass medium through scale or utilizing techniques that I have never explored. With merletto, I noticed a similarity between the patterns of the ancient technique and early pencil drawings that I created with a bundle of pencils held in my hand. This similarity inspired me to take on a new challenge, and to explore the merletto technique in a new way…in my way.
Q: As you know, the Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail has recently undergone a major renovation, providing both a paved path and lighting, allowing us to feature your artwork on The Carell Trail, which wasn’t possible in 2010. What went into the decision to show Red Reeds and Float Boat in this location?
A: As with every new project or site, I aim to create and place work that will change one’s experience in the environment. It was the same process for the trail; I wanted installations that people would react to as they move along its path.
Q: This will be the first time I will see one of your neon artworks in person, and I’m thrilled and know our visitors will be as well. Would you discuss the transition in using light as a medium and if, and how, artists like Dan Flavin have inspired those choices?
A: I started exploring neon for art installations in the late ‘60s and continued my experiments with the medium into the early ‘70s. I have always been fascinated by the transmission of light through translucent material and when you introduce color, it is very powerful. Neon is light itself, it communicates color brilliantly, and it couldn’t exist without glass.
Be sure to visit Chihuly at Cheekwood during daytime hours on Tuesday – Sunday or experience the exhibition from a different perspective after dark during Chihuly Nights, running select Tuesday – Sunday evenings. For tickets and more information about Chihuly at Cheekwood, visit https://cheekwood.org/calendar/chihuly-at-cheekwood/.
Dale Chihuly, Fiori Boat, 2018, and Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower, 2013 © Chihuly Studio