Saturday, July 19, 2008

Glass Friday

Chihuly at the deYoung, July 18, 2008
(update, July 24: more photos are available by
clicking here.)

As an astronomer, I suppose that I am predisposed to be fascinated by unusual things that glow in the dark. As a former telescope-maker, I am certainly predisposed to appreciate masterful glasswork. As a human being, I am predisposed to appreciate beauty.

No wonder, then, that I was absolutely blown completely away (at least until lunch) by the display of Dale Chihuly's work at San Francisco's deYoung Museum last Friday.

(NOTE: I have uploaded larger than usual original images to Blogger for this post; my standard is 800 pixels on the larger side, but these are 1,000 pixels on the larger side, and they are very well worth viewing at that resolution. You can do so by clicking on any image in this post.)

An early display in the exhibit: autumn comes in large glass leaves.

Chihuly's work is deliciously slathered in controversy in artsy circles. He doesn't actually fabricate the pieces himself, he self-promotes agressively, he has legions of hired minions, he uses light (and marketing) in ways reminiscent of Kinkade... to all of which I say, "so what?" Diane's and my hour in the darkened tunnel of the deYoung's Chihuly exhibit was a jubilant one, a time of slack-jawed grinning that was every bit as energizing as a trip down Disneyland's Splash Mountain waterfall. If that ain't cerebral enough for true art appreciation, then so be it.

The exhibit is popular enough that even museum members need to call ahead for timed tickets, so the darkened trail that winds through the Chihuly exhibit is always pretty well crowded. That prohibited bringing my tripod, so I had to resort to various less-than-optimum hardware and software compromises in order to capture these images. I think they came out pretty well -- for what they are -- but, keep in mind, that they are very, very poor representations of how breathtaking the display really is.

Glass Baskets

Macchia Forest #1

Macchia Forest #2

The "candles" in this work are approximately five feet tall.

Boatloads of Fantasy

Chandelier Room

A Grand Chandelier (about ten feet tall).

Chandelier Detail

A Good Glass Ceiling

Glass Ceiling Detail

Climactic Display: Starting End

Climactic Display: Finishing End

Climactic Display: Detail
A photographer's adjustment I learned to make during the trip through the exhibit was to use my camera's polarizing filter to enhance, rather than minimize, reflections. (The polarizer is almost always used to supress glare and reflections.) It became clear as we went along that there were two major actors in the Chihuly exhibit: the glassworks and the lighting, and that the latter -- including reflections, highlights, etc. -- was absolutely the equal of the former in the overall performance and impact of the work.

At the end of the exhibit is, of course, a gift shop, which includes the opportunity to buy some original products from the Chihuly enterprise. Like this little blue basket. Its size is calibrated by the credit-card-sized price tag at left... for more than $6,000. Mrs. Fort and I opted for a book, instead.

The Chihuly exhibit at the deYoung runs through late September. I strongly urge any of my California readers who haven't been to it yet to hie themselves thereto. It is, to paraphrase Michael Jagger, a glass, glass, glass.


ronnie said...

Stunningly beautiful works and very impressive photography. Since your photos are the closest a Canadian Maritime girl is about to get to these works, thank you so much for sharing them in larger-than-usual photos for exquisite detail.


Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Such sharpness without a tripod?? Either despite or because of your "compromises" the clarity of these pictures is amazing.

I followed one of your Chihuly links and discovered that he is unable to blow his own glass, so his ability to see to it that his vision is realized is pretty impressive. I admit my favorite is Glass Baskets - the less-spectacular color allows the forms and lines, and the wonderful glow to show so beautifully! The others almost overwhelm my senses, but the baskets, i'd want to just hang out with for awhile.

Thanks for this way-cool chance to see it!

Dann said...

Cool stuff, Sherwood. Thanks for sharing.

Too bad those exhibits don't come my way more often.

Sherwood Harrington said...

This was a lot more fun than wrestling with an out-of-control pickup truck, I tell you what.

Adam, you're not the only Harrington to have taken family who came from thousands of miles away to a place in SF that turned out to be locked up and inaccessible. In my case, though, it was my own damn' office. I'll tell you about it next time you're down here.

Ms. ronnie, I can't let a Maritimes gal languish so badly, so I've put up a longer slideshow over at The ones there are somewhat higher resolution than the ones here, 1200 pixels on the longer side instead of 1000. Let's see what your Crackberry can do with those, eh?

Ruth, the compromises had to do with how the background came out. In real life, the museum and Chihuly had taken care to make the background as black as possible so that the glasswork appeared, in many cases, to float. Without a tripod, I had to jack up the ISO equivalent sensitivity of the camera and then use Nikon's proprietary software to try to ameliorate the noise that jacking up induces in the images. I wasn't able to figure out a way to do all of that and keep the background black. I suppose I could do it in Photoshop, but that kind of seems like cheating to me. Not logical, I know, since the whole business of digital photography is cheating from the get-go, but I never claimed to be Vulcan.

Dann -- whaddya mean stuff like this doesn't come your way? Chihuly had a great exhibit in Chicago just a few years ago. I've got the impression that you're in south-central Michigan (Lansing/Battle Creek area, am I wrong?), so Chicago should be only a little farther away from you in terms of time than SF is from here in Boulder Creek.

Tell you what, if I lived in south-central Michigan, Diane would have me in Chicago for a weekend about three times a year. As long as I got to see the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium on most of those visits, I wouldn't mind a bit!

Dann said...

I think the big difference is that SF is the big magnet that is closest to you whereas Detroit is really our big magnet city. I sometimes hear about exhibits in Detroit or Ann Arbor or even Lansing. I rarely hear about exhibits in Chicago...even though it has some of the coolest museums in the country. [grin]

As it turns out, the Chihuly exhibit was in Battle Creek a couple years ago. Much more accessible....not that I accessed it, but it was better than Chicago.

ronnie said...

Sherwood - thanks for the slideshow - U R teh best!!!1!!!