Chihuly In Venice

 

William Warmus


 

6:30 pm Fiddler's Green. I am penning an early entry in the notebook I've begun for Chihuly Over Venice, a writing assignment that will take me from my home near Ithaca, New York, to Venice to observe the construction of some sculptures made of glass and metal. Listening to National Public Radio in the background and distractedly enjoying the whitecaps on Cayuga Lake beyond the window, I hear Terry Gross announce that her guest on Fresh Air tonight is Dale Chihuly. So I start taking notes about her interview, and one incident especially. She asks him, "Why Glass?" Dale pauses and responds, "Suppose a child comes upon some beach glass with sun on it. The little kid will drop everything to get that. Maybe I'm that little kid."

Chihuly is that grown up child, a man of impregnable simplicity who inspires complex reactions, an artist always playing with the same basic media: first, and above all else, glass, shaped by the breath of the glassblower, and next, water and light. Breath, water, and light: essentials of life. And now Chihuly was proposing to take his glass to the city of water and light: Venice. A city that engages, indeed overwhelms, all the senses and one where the art of glassmaking has, since the Renaissance, been raised to great heights while veiled in secrecy. And yet an open and curious city, where in the 1960's and 1970's one great man, Ludovico de Santillana, head of the venerable glas house of Venini (with it's factory on the island of Murano), opened the doors to visiting American students and artists, Chihuly among the first. So a return to Venice would be a full circle for Chihuly, from the glass on the beach and the student on a fullbright to the mature artist in the glare of the media.

My notebook starts on May 30, with a few lines about the uncertainty of the dates and sites for the mounting of the sculptures in venice, a source of tension that would plague Chihuly and his team until late in the summer. I am told that the idea for the entire project started as a plan for a movie, later to become a televison documentary that will appear on PBS, as filmed by KCTS in Seattle, sometime in 1997. A second video crew, headed by Michael Barnard, was soon added to film behind the scenes: a little like Apocalypse Now and it's documentary style sister film Heart of Darkness.

The idea was to make a glass, make it fast and simple, almost as if for a movie, at leading factories around the world: In Nuutajärvi, Finland; at Waterford, Ireland, and in Monterrey, Mexico, starting in July 1995. The movie would document the glassblowing process, the interaction of the team of glassblowers from Chihuly's studio in Seattle with the factory trained glass-makers, the evolution of new artistic processes resulting from this fusion of nationalities and skills (for example new ways of blowing glass with no reheating), and the final result, beautiful objects in a beautiful city, the individual glass componants in all their glittering array filmed as large, assembled sculptures against the backdrop of Venetian canals, palazzi, churches. The movie would portray Chihuly the artist but also record the performance aspect of the entire process: the dance of the glassmaker.

So Chihuly Over Venice started as a movie, but by early summer of 1996 things were, as big things usually do, spinning out of control. Chihuly had aggreed to coordinate the assembly of the sculptures in venice with the opening of Venezia Aperto Vetro, the city's first biennale of contemporary glass, in mid-September. This provided a "seal of approval" and immeasurably energized the biennale, while at the same time it meant that hundreds of leading artists and collectors would become unanticipated "extras" in Chihuly Over Venice, the movie. The stakes were now much higher, the event had to succeed beyond the almost clinical realm of the media. If it weren't there (and by early July there were still no unequivocal site permissions!) or if it didn't look great, the project would fail.

The event had moved to a new level: the unpredictable was intruding. Instead of a media experiment, whose final form could be controlled, it was beginning to resemble James Joyce's novel Ulysses, as described by the critic Edmund Wilson:

 

 

Throughout my notebook interviews, like a lawyer trying to trick a witness into contradiction by asking the same question over and over again, I kept asking Dale: "What is Chihuly Over Venice?" Once, he answered: "You know, I never have been able to figure out what it is." While everyone involved knew what they were doing and why during the glassmaking and filming sessions of Chihuly Over Venice, by September few if any of us had a complete idea of why we were doing this in Venice, or what might happen there. The Glass world was invited, the team was assembling, the biennale of architecture was opening the same week, the movie had lost the possibility of scripting: all that was left was to hope that the "gross body of humanity" was laboring to make something beautiful.

Friday, August 23, 1996

4:30 pm I interview Dale for the last time before Venice, reminding him of a day in the early 1980's at his cabin near the Pilchuck Glass School north of Seattle when he, dressed in a woven Indian jacket, posed for Tom Buechner (then president of Steuben Glass) who was painting his portait, while I finished the last of a 10-hour interview, and as the artist Hank Adams called all over the globe looking for a solar powered typewriter (which he found) for Dale, whose cabin lacked electricity. This story brought a deep laugh, deflecting the train of conversation, and the remark that "as you get older, few things interest you except your work. For breathing space I watch movies. Could movies be the greatest art form of our time?" I say I don't think so. "I maybe agree with you, but I just saw Trainspotting for the second time. What about editing? Maybe editing is the most important. Editing: thats the art part, isn't it? But not spending 12 hours a day in a room. You need that vision. You can lose it if you are in the room for hours. Better to go out, make phone calls."

8 pm I talk to Helen Abbott, the director of Portland Press, at Chihuly Studio. The permissions granted, the installation crew left Tuesday; 8,000 to 12,000 componant pieces of glass were shipped to Venice: Chihuly Over Venice is a go! Put another way, Chihuly Over Venice is a non-stop.

But I love to feel events overlapping each other, crawling over one another like wet crabs in a basket.
Lawrence Durrell, Balthazar

Tuesday, September 3

6:25 pm: Newark Airport, Alitalia gate.

Pat Driscoll and I depart for Venice. On the plane I'm reading about the Venetian love of pageantry in The World of Venice by Jan Morris.

Wednesday, September 4

 

Noon: Marco Polo International Airport. Our arrival in the lagoon is by air, but seeking the most memorable efect, we ride a water taxi, a handsome wooden boat with center cabin and space to stand on deck and feel the sea beezes as the waters of the lagoon skim past, and serene Venice emerges on the horizon. Because we are staying near the San Samuele stop on the grand Canal, we enter Venice "the back way" through the narrow "Canale della Misericordia and Rio di San Felice, lined with builidings that look, to a New Yorker, like a flooded SoHo. We pass under the Rialto Bridge, emerging from the boat at a wooden pier, surprised to find Chihuly already there: just accross the Grand Canal, at Palazzeto Stern, a shining blue Chandelier, supported by four steel tubes, as if harpooned and held aloft. And in front, Michael Barnard with is video camera.

The small-town character of Venice (there are only 12, 355 acres of land in the entire Venetian lagoon, including the islands of Murano, Burano, Torcello, etc.) will prove to be essential to the experience of Chihuly Over Venice, providing all of us with an opportunity to visit and revisit the scuptures as if they were in our own backyards, and setting the stage for chance encounters with old friends and collegues in changing light and spectacular settings. This is brought home when, walking towwards St. Mark's Square in the early afternoon, Chihuly (dressed in a rusty pumkin color shirt and lime green trousers and wearing his famous painted shoes) calls out a greeting as we cross Campo San Moise. He's looking over the sites where the sculptures will be set out and leads us to a little courtyard on the Grand Canal.

2:00 pm: Campiello Remer. The team is finishing the only colorless glass Chandelier, made at Waterford in Ireland, most of the componants deeply wheel cut by the artisans at the factory. Just after we arrive, Dale is ready to leave again, needs a water taxi, one conveniently arriving in front of the square and discharging elegant couple, the man smoking a cigar: Angelica Huston and Robert Graham, in Venice for the film festival. Chihuly has been in an exhibition with Graham, a scuptor, and so they chat while I climb the stone staircase beside the courtyard and admire the view, the handsomely decorated apartment whose occupant is enjoying the Chandelier, its heavy cut glass facets breaking light beams into rainbow colors like a prism. That same evening we cross over the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal to get a look at this sculpture at night, across the water, and discover an orange Chandelier at the fish market site. As we stand around it, a couple emerges from the night; she snaps a photograph, and they are gone.

Friday, Sept. 6

Afternoon: Campo della Salute. The square in front of the Baroque Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, on the Giudecca, owns a spectacular view across the busy entrance of the Grand Canal toward St. Mark's Square and is filled at the moment with steel rods, glass spheres the color and shape of pink balloons or transparent melons, and the Seattle team. Parks Anderson, John Landon, Tom Lind, and team raise the steel pyramid of pipes that becomes first scaffolding and then support for the glass. A tiny metal pointer at the end of a plumb line aims straight towards the center of the earth, indicating the structure is in balance and ready to receive men and glass. Anderson and Landon climb up, a combination of mountaineers and monks, balance and concentration, as they try to ignore the surrounding crowds, media view and get on with their work. This is the tallest of the sculptures, 21-feet high, its backdrop the enormous church surmounted by orecchioni, buttersses for the dome that look like big ears or the spiral decorations of a Venetian vase. As Elena Bernardi on the team says, "It's better to sneak into this city than to jump right in on top; Venice allows you to be in it but you must be kind. This is a nice piece, it doesn't take away from La Salute: it's here, that's there." Behind me I overhear a collector: "I guess we all must retire to Venice some day."

Venice is the Grand Canyon of cities, its beauty overwelming, and still the Salute piece will turn out spectacularly well, one of the best, glowing in the sunset while interacting politely with the architecture and statues. Yet by 4:30 pm I hear from Parks Anderson that representatives of a literary event planned for the 14th (8 days away) have just appeared and that Salute will have to come down before then, even though Chihuly was granted a permit. General exasperation. But as the project director, Leslie Jackson, says: "They are concerened with their own media; they have a stage and it would block that. So we put it up, we take it down in a week. We have to take it down anyway." Everyone is too focused on the next site to dwell on the loss of such a beauty, now an ephemeral one, at Salute.

Saturday, Sept. 7

1:15 pm: In front of the medieval cloister of Sant'Apollonia. Dale and the project engineer, Nicola Ferrari, sit on steps leading to the canal behind the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs to their left, planning the Double Bridge site, the nest complicated one, the one the team has reserved for last. Chihuly:"Because the KCTS boat has to go anyway, we can go like this." Ferrari:"I can ask them to stop the traffic on the canal:" Chihuly:"Except gondolas. Beautiful gondolas!" as he motions to one that passes a yard away from us on the canal. Later, inside the cloister, the set up proceeds smoothly, Anderson and Chihuly working on the placement of the glass, Chihuly in Neptune pose lofting an intense blue horn shape form for Anderson to grab. The banter of the crew: "Hey Parks--the cameraman has got the steady cam on, Cool, Can he jog with it?" The bell metal sounds of glass against glass and steel against steel, the English-speaking woman who has brought her friends and says she comes here because it is peaceful, only to find it filed with "Americans!" Later, when I'm alone in the cloister I understand what she means, the icy blue of the sculpture amplifying the silence of remote places and times, creating a meditative center in the courtyard.

2:30 pm: A tall man with a white beard arrives, starts to give Chihuly a bear hug, spies the camera, says,"No -- wait," and changes positions so that the camera angle on Chihuly is better, Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet of PBS fame and a fan of Chihuly's work, is in Venice especially for this event, and as they chat I overhear someone:"That's good--when you get two guys who ares good at ad-libbing its always good."

7:50 pm: Fiore, near Campo Santo Stefano. Dinner with Park Anderson and his family, Anderson arrives late, speaking enthusiastically about a new site they have just selected, on a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal at the Balboni residence, near an extraordinary apartment designed by Carlo Scarpa, Venice's finest architect, He praises the Italian project engineer, Nicola Ferrari, asbur link to Venice: honest, indefatigable, professional."

Chihuly Over Venice is materializing! Anderson: "It's the 'you can do it' factor with Dale, Chihuly gives people permission to do their best." What about bringing American glass to Venice?" Wouldn't it be arrogant to just come here and try to overwhelm Venice? Descend on the city like a rock band? Chihuly Over Venice is like a kiss, a thank you from Dale for the nurturing Venice has given him." I ask Parks what he thinks is going through Dale's mind right now: "You feel the weight -- expense -- complication -- possible embarrassment -- you don't want to spend yourself into jeopardy, But the team disperses that fear: tribes work that way. Still, part of leadership is to hold that fear and deal with it alone."

As we speak, team members appear in the open door of the restaurant, stopping by for a moment on their way from the Salute site:"Is Chihuly still at Salute?" "No. He wouldn't stay there by himself." RussellJohnson, the photographer, is elated: "The sunset photos are the best since Finland." The same with the video crew,"We smoked it! Unbelievable. I've never seen glass look like that at sunset. We shot to the sun -- it was like John Landon handing up balls on fire," as he finished assembling the Chandelier. Dinner ends with a conversation between us and a transplanted American-in-Venice, a regular patron of Fiore, about the infamous Pink Floyd concert and how it ruined the city."That's what I say Venice is not -- people hanging on the lamps -- no respect. You have to respect everything."

Sunday, September 8

11:00 am: In the Campiello Barbaro. A little courtyard near the Guggenheim Foundation, one of the few installation sites where there are trees, and the green mirrored sculpture (composed of gourd shapes blown in Mexico) is going up in the midst of them. I'm aware of motion at a third-floor window above: a young man wearing a pale violet shirt and glasses with heavy black frames is watching us, his movements registered in miniature in each of the mirrored gourds of the sculpture, as if in the multifaceted eye of a giant insect. Chihuly has not yet arrived, and at noon I lunch with Michael Barnard and his friend Jillian Gotlib, a magician and guitarist. Barnard has taped Chihuly at the blowing sessions, so we talk about Finland, where it never really got dark and Dale was highly energized. I hear about a magical last moment there, with the team at a final party and Dale still out on the water with the glass. But then in Ireland Chihuly was down. I think artists try to grab the creative energy they need as it arcs between their moods, but it can't be an easy life.

After lunch, we return to find Chihuly at work, sunglasses over his eye patch. Leslie Jackson tells me that he spent the morning in the tub "rebirthing" himself, and now he's explaining to the camera that the Chandelier components are kept round so that rain won't stick to them, that the pod system allows the team to assemble the sculptures anywhere outdoors and provides legs around which parts of the sculpture can "lock" to keep it from twisting in the wind.

5:40 pm: Fondamenta Nuove. Chihuly is taking the team to dinner on the island of Burano, and I meet him at the ferry boat. He has a stack of newspapers, USA Today and the International Herald Tribune, and we compare same-day front pages between the papers: which headlines are clearer, which stories did each choose to emphasize? It's a pastime, itself an editing process. The American presidential election is two months away, Dole versus Clinton, and we talk politics, discuss Clinton's cabinet choices. I remember an article in The New York Times that drew attention to Chihuly's painted shoes as one of the memorable fashion statements seen among those attending the state dinner for Boris Yeltsin at the White House. His feet cause him pain; to mitigate that and avoid surgery he has shoes made for him, and I suspect he paints them to improve their appearance.

Dale wishes we had Italian newspapers as well, to read about the film festival, and asks: "Who are the great Italian directors? Who are the great writers?" He clearly admires artists who change, citing Picasso:"How can you not change?" Again I question him about Chihuly Over Venice: Is it about art? media? performance? "I don't know what it is but I hope it's original." Passing a semi-deserted island in the lagoon, just a few houses surrounded by overgrown fields: romantic in an isolated way. Dale: "I used to think I wanted to live that way, but not now."

7:30 pm: At the restaurant on Burano. Our group occupies all the outdoor tables. I sit next to John Landon and take notes on a tiny yellow Post-it pad, proving that this form of media is less intrusive than video. "With 800 pounds of steel in the air, you're either energized or intimidated. Parks and I work better in dead silence. My bush experience helped with these structures: Idaho and Alaska, ten years as a logger and on a trap line. A pure world, no lies in the outback, no art of deception. It's where there is a purity to the objects -- they create themselves." Landon needs convincing about the integrity of art: the steel pods are meant to have a purity and directness of expression. "I'm much more secure looking down than up, like a bird. In the outback, I was in situations where I couldn't make mistakes -- the same with these structures. Even glass should have some risks, even at Salute: putting the last few glass pieces over the top was the kind of risk needed. It's an edgy experience, digging around the glass up in the air on a 2-foot board." As we speak, I hear Tom Hodgson, Russell Johnson's assistant, who has brought his guitar, singing quietly,"Love is kind of crazy with a spooky little girl like you." As the good food arrives, the conversation drifts, and I ask John about his accident: "I took a new Cadillac over a 100-foot cliff. I would do it over again...an incredible learning experience. Life is a delicate thing. It doesn't take much to take it." Later in the week, at the publication party at Louisa Berndt's gallery for Tina Oldknow's book about the 25-year history of the Pilchuck Glass School, I'll turn to page 67 and a dramatic photograph captioned: "John Landon eats dinner off the end of a machete" during Pilchuck's first, primitive year of life. On the opposite page, Toots Zynsky recalls that "Landon built this beautiful tipi.. .. It was magical, it was so beautiful."

Monday, September 9

3:00 pm: At the Double Arch at Campo San Maurizio. Jeff Smith is good at providing a running commentary as we watch the hanging of a dusky pink and purple Chandelier, one that looks like it could have been between the arches for a hundred years: "They cause hunger in me. Such beauty. You know you yourself could never create that. This genius with the eye patch and funky shoes: he's eccentric and loves being eccentric. People see an artist like that and realize that he's more human, not less, and the hunger he causes he also satisfies. "The first time I went to The Boathouse (Chihuly's studio in Seattle) I saw glassblowing and then ate an artistic meal. Art is food for the whole person, and then out comes the cook, Dale. He's a very odd artist. He could never repeat. I think he finds that cheap. Repetitive is when a guy never changes the menu. Chihuly Over Venice is like an enormous dinner party that will never be the same again." Why did he use the word cook? "A cool is someone who is good at the stove." Before we part, Smith names a restaurant for dinner, Alla Madonna: "Not too expensive. Start with crab in the shell. Try the grilled eel or pasta with squid in black ink."

5:45 pm: St. Marks Square, at the launch of the Hotel Cipriani. I'm on my way to talk to Charles Cowles, the New York gallery owner and one of Chihuly's primary dealers. Events have combined to evoke some lines from Anthony Powell's A dance to the music of Time, spoken to convince the narrator to attend a literary conference in Venice:

 

 

Something to contemplate as I sit in the cabin of the boat and catch the Chihuly at Salute winking in the fluctuating light, a temporary king as well.

Cowles is finishing a swim in the Cipriani's 90 degree saltwater pool, so we sit at a poolside table and I sip a martini and he a Campari and soda. Cowles: "Everybody will be here -- his fan club is uniting. Save Venice is here and there will be an architecture conference next week. Dale has gained entry into the artworld as.an artist. Dale is shooting for the top - as he should. He is a showman, but with guts." The Chandeliers?" Technically, the parts are not difficult but the Chandeliers are creative and successful. I think the big yellow one in the Barovier Gallery is spectacular." And the steel supports? "Dale has not yet talked god into giving him a skyhook. I don't even look at those. They are like a stretcher for a painting." What do you usually talk to Dale about? "The newest project he's making and how to sell it." Talk turns to how hard it can be to reach Dale, that he moves around too much, overbooks his time. Leaving the table, I spot Dale and Leslie in the pool waiting for Charlie.

Tuesday, September 10

Tension increases visibly: collectors and artists are arriving. Several of the sites pose special problems: at the gondolier works, dust can ruin the freshly painted gondolas, so the team must be limited in size, plus there is concern about the tides damaging the glass and the noise of the glass annoying the neighbors; access to the terrace at the Balboni residence is through an apartment, with the need to respect the owner's generosity and not overwhelm the household with people and media; the Double Bridge site, over water and at one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in Venice, seems almost too evidently difficult, The rush to complete the sites competes with the first rule: avoid accidents. As Anderson indicates, there are three types of failure to auard anainst: "Aesthetic,engineering, humiliation." Chihuly is the guardian angel watching over the first, Anderson, Landon, and Lind are in charge of the second; we all hope for the best regarding the third.

Wednesday, September 11

Lunchtime: Near Salute. In such situations, humor helps to soften the edge. Landon and his team have just finished disassembling the beautiful Salute sculpture, and we leave the steel, tools, odds and ends alone as we head for lunch. Landon: "Is someone going to grab something?" What kind of tourist would go around saying: This is a hammer from Baghdad?" A hundred pound pipe from Venice? At lunch, the waitress takes over our meal. An Italian speaking member of the team relays her commands: "You don't eat tomatoes with that pasta!" Testing her reaction, I order a crab in its shell and a latte: "No way!"

Thursday, September 12

6:30 pm: At the Venezia Aperto Vetro opening, Palazzo Ducale. I think we are amazed that we are all here, at least a thousand packed into the loggia and waiting to enter, spotting friends we haven't seen in years and some we see every day. Nearby me: the artists Jaroslava Brychtova and Stanislav Libensky, Michael Glancy, Dick Marquis, Klaus Moje, Bertil Vallien, Mary Shaffer, Toots Zynsky, Line Tagliapietra, James Watkins, Richard Meitner, Pike Powers; collectors: the Saxes, the Parkmans, the Andersons, plus the dealers Kate Elliott, Ferd Harnpson, Doug Heller; and curators Helmut Ricke and Silva Petrova.

In the Doge's apartments. Chihuly has placed his sculpture, the Lampadario del Doge, directly beneath one of the palace's chandeliers, and it is brilliant. Just as his earlier Venetian series, more Venetian than Venetian glass itself, completes that tradition. So this piece brings the chandelier down to the floor in a perfect act of closure. It also stakes a claim that chandeliers originated on the floor but aspired toward the ceiling. I'm reminded of a discussion I used to have with Clement Greenberg about abstract sculpture and the problem of the finial, a negative term because it took the sculpture into the range of the decorative or ornamental. With Chihuly's Chandelier-sculptures, the finial melts into the sculpture, the sculpture and ornament are one. Another way towrite this: Chihuly is making contemporary sculpture that, while advanced from an optical and colorist point of view, is not abstract, not decorative, not realistic. Around 7:00 pm I see George Saxe and George Russell shake hands in front of the Chandelier, two Doges of the collector's world.

Saturday, September 14

8:45 am: Double Bridge, Ponte Duodo. I hear someone on a cell phone: "Stalemate right now. I don't think the boom can go up that high!" But by 9:40 am the second raising of the 4-legged steel pod looking like a drowned spider over the canal, is a success. I want a camera to capture the intense faces of John and Parks as they strain to bolt each leg to the brackets affixed to masonry walls. "Like Iwo Jima," I hear beside me. Later, I sit with Cliff Hillhouse on the KCTS boat and view the proceedings on his High Definition Television monitor, images direct from the camera mounted high overhead on a moveable boom. Physically, I only need to turn my head to see events transpire under the bridge; electronically, I view them in exquisite detail as if flying above. In the end, it reduces to looking at Chihuly's three-dimensional glass by means of flat glass surface coated with glowing colors.

3:30 pm: Up on the bridge, I stand next to Chihuly, who motions at all the media: "What good does all this do for making movies, if the acting and writing are bad?" We stand and look up at Dale's technology, glassblowing which hasn't changed much since ancient Rome. Every moment is being recorded from three or four different angles by the latest camera equipment, cell phones are ringing, and we are plunging into the past. John Landon refers the the pod:"It's a Pyramid." And Marvin Lipofsky, who has joined us, remarks that the steelwork is like the glassblowing benches that Dale designed years ago as a teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design.

4:15 pm: Done! The scafolding is coming down, I light the Romeo et Julietta cigar Dick Marquis gave me and wait for Jillian to arrive with her tarot cards: I'm using alternative technology to help me write about Chihuly Over Venice.

Monday, September 16

11:00 am: Along Fondamenta San Giovanni dei Battuti. At Pino Signoretto's glass studio on the island of Murano. Perhaps because Pat and I leave Tuesday morning, whenever I see members of the "cast" from the last week assisting or passing through to observe the glassblowing, it's like watching curtain calls at the end of a performance: Ann Richards, former governor of Texas; the Parkmans with their cameras; George Saxe to one side in serious conversation with Line Tagliapietra; George Stroemple, a leading collector of Chihuly; work; and the members of the team. During a break in the blowing, Dale sees me with the Herald Tribune, asks: "Did we compare newspapers today?"

Chihuly is at the center of this space, in this dark equipment-jammed industrial setting, working with Pino Signoretto and Line Tagliapietra, evolving a new design for a Chandelier, swelling ocean forms, glowing hot, covered with sea creatures. I overhear Ann Richards explaining that the one they are now shaping will become a turtle.

12:15 pm: I join Leslie Jackson for lunch and an "exit" interview. We sit in the nearly empty indoor dining room while the crew and a few friends eat outside, and I wonder how Dale is holding up, constantly mobbed by people and deluged with details. "Most artists are more prickly, but Dale enjoys people. Still, Dale needs space and I have to take it for him, I'm his only space-taker." We talk about his need to balance the social with the making of art: "The soul of what Dale does is in the glassblowing; he is at his best on the floor of the blowing room. For this blow we asked visitors not to talk to him, to allow him space, to be aware that they have been invited into an extraordinary space. We need to nourish that, to schedule it into his calendar: the way he: is around the fire, a special focus, a different state of mind." As if he has overheard us, Chihuly looks in, wants to know if we would like to talk with the project engineer from Finland, while at the same time I read in his face the need for some space and for someone to take it for him.

7:00 pm: Palazzetto Pisani. Throughout a week of gorgeous, 70 degree weather, the city glowing under blue skies and dramatic clouds, there have been delightful parties in honor of Chihuly Over Venice, given by George and Dorothy Saxe, Doug and Dale Anderson, and tonight, a dinner party for friends of the International Museum of Modern Glass, hosted by George and Jane Russell in a seventeenth-century palace with a nearly intact interior. After dinner, Russell congratulates Leslie Jackson: "I'm in the stock market and can say that when Leslie joined the volatility came way down" and speculates, "This is probably the greatest event in modern glass, so let's toast--to Dale."

EPILOGUE

To recapture the past is possible then. But if one truly wants to recapture it, one has to run down a kind of corridor that every instant becomes longer and longer. Down there at the end of the remote, sunny point where the corridor's black walls converge, there stands life as vivid and throbbing as once before when it was first experienced. Eternal then? Eternal, of course. But nonetheless farther away, more and more elusive, more and more unwilling to permit itself to be possessed.

Giorgio Bassani, The Romance of Ferrara, Douglas Radcliff-Umstead, trans.

Sunday, October 27

5:00 pm: Ithaca. So what was Chihuly Over Venice? For me, as a writer, it is a work in progress as I conduct more interviews and type out notebook excerpts. For some, it was about selling, or owning, or seeing: with one eye or an electronic lens; as a gourmet, or a cook, or a curator; in Venice on a nostalgic visit, a working trip, taken by surprise. We all lived like temporary kings, a gift from the artist, and watched as the sculptures grew and took their place in the ensemble of buildings, people, water, and light of the city. After a time they became landmarks: "Meet you at the Double Arch and we'll walk to dinner." It is frustrating that I spent two weeks in Venice, have nearly two hundred pages of notebook entries, and nonetheless my record is silent about significant details: talking to the gallery owner Kate Elliott, Dale's longtime friend, on October 4, she reminds me that the Chandeliers were best at night (when chandeliers are meant to dominate a room), a fact I enjoyed but never wrote about in Venice! There is something about Chihuly that makes you experience everything, all at once, and as you are overwhelmed you know that there are still secrets, back there, in the furnace room, with the glassblowers, where he is at work to catch every scrap of inspiration. That day at the Double Bridge, when Chihuly dismissed all the technology with a few words, it made me think that Chihuly Over Venice, as much as anything, was about traveling back in time, down that dark corridor to whatever is best in the past and worth propelling into the future. That's a trip you don't take with the media, its one you make with your heart.

 

Published in Chihuly Over Venice, Portland Press, 1996

 

 

'Take a chance on it. Yau'll live like a king once you get there.'

'One of those temporary kings in The Golden Bough, everything at their disposal for a year or a month or a day -- then execution? Death in Venice?'

'Only ritual execution...The retribution,... takes the form, severe enough in its way, I admit, of having to return to everyday life. Even that ... you'll do with renewed energy.

 

The most memorable of all such galas was arranged for the visit of Henry the III of France, in 1574....As this fleet sailed accross the lagoon, glassblowers on a huge accompanying raft blew objects for the King's amusement, their furnace a gigantic marine monster that belched flame from its jaws and nostrils.

 

The world of Ulysses is animated by a complex inexhaustible life: we revisit it as we do a city....The gross body, the body of humanity, upon which Ulysses rests...is laboring to throw up some knowledge and beauty by which it may transcend itself.

 

PROLOGUE

Monday, July 15, 1996