June 27, 2013

Glass artist's work a colorful display

By STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican

---- — MONTREAL — Glassblowing equals mind-blowing.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents “Chihuly: Utterly Breathtaking,” the first major Canadian exhibition of acclaimed studio glass artist Dale Chihuly. Born in Tacoma, Wash., in 1941, Chihuly has worked for five decades with contemporary art glass and has become the medium’s master with exhibitions and public art installations that have spanned the globe.

The exhibition begins outside, where Chihuly’s “Sun” offers a bright pop of sunshine alongside Sherbrooke Street. The 15-foot diameter installation, aligned dead center on the steps of the stately Hornstein Pavilion, breaks up the Beaux Arts facade in an abstract fashion. 

From a sunburst of golden yellow to a rainbow of colors, Chihuly’s “Macchia Forest” provides an impressive infusion of hues. On display are dozens of bold clamshell-like bowls, which originally began life as singular pieces as early as 1981. With more than 300 colors available for Chihuly to use in his hot-shop glass studio, one macchia grew into a complete forest.

“I’m obsessed with color,” Chihuly said in the accompanying wall text. “Never saw one I didn’t like.”

To the benefit of the visitor, that is the understatement of the year. Strategically lit from all sides, the macchia are stunning inside and out. 

Water provides the inspiration for some of Chihuly’s works. In the mid-1990s, while in Finland preparing for an exhibition in Venice, Chihuly tossed pieces of his art glass into the water and asked some local boys to retrieve them in boats, according to a press release. The rest is art-installation history as Chihuly now regularly incorporates floating vessels into many of his exhibitions. His boats on display — “Fiori” and “Float Boats” — meant to evoke horns of plenty, overflow with colorful glass spheres and spires.

From water to landscapes, “Mille Fiore,” Chihuly’s otherworldly version of a vibrant botanical garden created for the Montreal Museum of Fine Art exhibit, was inspired by his love for flowers, nature and his mother’s passion for gardening (fiori is the Italian word for flower). This garden of glass blooms with layers of breathtaking reeds, herons and blossoms.

The final two galleries offer a playful overhead perspective with works that include Chihuly’s “Chandeliers,” “Towers” and “Persian Ceiling” series — all of which elegantly hang from the rafters above.

“Persian Ceiling” evokes a colorful underwater coral reef, which is best viewed when directly facing skyward. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts provides comfy beanbag chairs so visitors can sit back and soak it all in.

“Chihuly” continues through Sunday, Oct. 20.

Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Chihuly." WHEN: Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. The "Chihuly" exhibition is also open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. The exhibit runs through Sunday, Oct. 20. WHERE: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is at 1380 Sherbrooke St. W. ADMISSION: $20 for those 31 and over, and $12 for visitors ages 13 to 30. Admission from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays is $10. Admission to the permanent collection is always free. CONTACT: Call (514) 285-2000, or visit or