Dale Chihuly – Reflections on Nature Exhibition
Running at Kew Gardens until 27 October
It was love at first sight when, some 20 years ago in San Francisco, I discovered the work of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. An abiding memory I’ve never lost, and he remains my favourite artist of all time. Well, now I can fall in love once more by visiting his new Kew Gardens exhibition ‘Dale Chihuly: Reflections on Nature’.
As if Kew wasn’t impressive enough, with its spectacular landscapes and exquisite Victorian glasshouse architecture, currently it also boasts the curves, spikes, spheres and vast, vibrant colour palette of 32 mind-blowing glass sculptures from Chihuly’s stunning collection. The gardens are a perfect backdrop, as Chihuly’s work takes inspiration from nature and reflects it back generously.
If you enter from Victoria Gate, you are greeted with the ‘Sapphire Star’, a spiky thistle of blue and clear glass starkly guarding the traditional columned gate. His work ‘Summer Sun’ is a beautifully chaotic tangle of glass noodles, sending out fiery shades of burnt red, orange and yellow, contrasting with the calm surroundings of water, greens and sky. Similar in style is ‘The Opal and Amber Tower’, punching upwards and framed by formal-glasshouse-opulence. Countering these imposing busy forms, are the ‘Niijima Floats’, nestling in the tranquil Japanese Garden. These gentle orbs sit in perfect harmony with the low-rise planting, it’s impossible not to be drawn in to this clever marriage of colour and calm, giant marbles carefully scattered in the circularly-raked gravel. It’s your very own Zen-Wonderland
Given the combination of an Autumnal show and the British climate, if you’re unlucky enough to get rain, just go inside; the glasshouses make great art-spaces. The newly restored Temperate House hosts a new artwork, designed especially for the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse; fittingly titled ‘The Temperate House Persians’, the piece hangs 20 metres above your head, providing a spectacular tumbling blue and yellow foil to the 10,000 plants surrounding you. Also at ground level are the ‘Turquoise Marlins and Floats’, a sculpture from 2015 of navy blue spheres giving rise to long opaque-blue leaves, heading sky-wards with flamingo-like necks. All amongst the palm trees and spiral staircase of a glasshouse interior.
This is architecture, nature and art hitting it off just fine. A fantasy land with the wonderful benefit of being real in all its vibrant glory. Chihuly, now 77, has been creating these unique sculptures for over 50 years; he recently told the BBC “How can you not love Kew?” applauding its “extraordinary glasshouses and magnificent landscapes”. Well Dale Chihuly is equally extraordinary and magnificent. His work is defined by the irregularity and asymmetry of organic forms, shaped by centrifugal force, or simply by gravity.
This exhibition is a must if you want to walk among art in nature. And if you visit during twilight the glass takes on a luminescence against the setting sun. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, perhaps like love at first sight.