Not-so-fragile collaborations 

Dale Chihuly
Indianapolis Children’s Museum

Dale Chihuly has done more to elevate glass as an artistic medium than perhaps any other artist. Chihuly’s glass works are intoxicatingly beautiful, to be sure, but this isn’t the only reason Chihuly has made it so big. Chihuly has turned glass into a medium for communicating about art: He has turned glass blowing into a highly accessible artform, which has in no way diminished the magic of his work, or unfurled its mystery.

And Indiana likes Chihuly. From his early yellow neon chandelier at the Columbus (Indiana) Area Visitors Center to his more recent “DNA Tower” at IU School of Medicine, plus exhibitions at the Eiteljorg Museum and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, among other Indiana connections, none compares with his latest and largest: Chihuly’s “Tower,” officially installed last spring inside the Children’s Museum, trumps them all in size, while not necessarily in substance. Touted as Chihuly’s largest permanent sculpture to date, the 43-foot-tall artwork is composed of 3,200 individually blown pieces of glass rising up through the museum’s atrium. Destined to become an icon, “Tower” doesn’t speak to Indiana uniquely, but it does strike a pose.

Compared with other Chihuly installations, “Tower” certainly isn’t his most awesome. The sculpture is composed largely of primary colors, perhaps in tune with the sensibilities of younger audiences. It’s the sheer size of the thing that makes you gasp, and certainly, like the museum’s water clock in the lobby, audiences won’t tire of its intricacies and grand scale anytime soon, if ever.

But the Children’s Museum has done more than bring Chihuly to young people. Certainly, Chihuly’s glass has never been hard for kids to get: What’s difficult about colorful undulating glass, so visually reminiscent of brightly wrapped hard candy? Rather, the museum is helping to make connections between Chihuly’s glass and abstract art in general. The accompanying permanent exhibition, Fireworks of Glass, is an attempt to provide the learning angle.

And the temporary exhibition, Fiori dei Bambini, is another accessible Chihuly effort that, to its credit, maximizes community connections. The exhibition itself, a “garden” of Chihuly glass — this one reflecting more varied and inspired manifestations of Chihuly’s art than the more straightforward aesthetic of “Tower” — is a sampling of his trademark forms in his “Mille Fiori” (Italian for “a thousand flowers”) style, from elegant reeds that almost appear to sway to large orbs of metallic glass with surface textures that hint of visits by insects.

Additional displays include works by members of Chihuly’s Hilltop Artists in Residence program for at-risk youth in his home state of Washington, works by students from Anderson University, the only Indiana institution of higher learning that offers a major in studio glass, and blown glass from the Indianapolis Art Center, which offers classes in glassblowing to all comers. Finally, on display are “paintings” in the Chihuly style by Indiana youth who worked with the man himself on a visit to Indiana last year.

Fiori dei Bambini is on view through Sept. 9. Fireworks of Glass and “Tower” are on view indefinitely. Visit the museum at 3000 N. Meridian St. Call 317-334-3322 or visit for more information.

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