Untitled Document

Lobbying for art: glass artist favors corporate displays

Carol Olten
San Diego Union
February 12, 1989

Glass artist Dale Chihuly doesn't mince words about displaying his art in a corporate commercial development.

"My favorite place to have pieces is a public spot where people other than arts and crafts lovers are apt to see them," said the prominent Seattle artist. "More people go through a lobby than ever visit a museum."

Chihuly was in such a public space in San Diego recently to supervise the installation of his sparkling handblown glass in two buildings that comprise the first phase of Chancellor Park, a $175 million development in the Golden Triangle.

The artist was commissioned by the project's developer, the Joseph Development Corp. of La Jolla. Other pieces are being considered for later phases of the project.

The pieces, which were created in Chihuly's studio in Seattle, consist of two installations, one in the lobby of each building.

The first piece is a trio of gently curved handblown cylinders in brilliant chartreuse green, deep blue and burnt sienna.

The second display is a wall of about 60 shell-like pieces inspired by sea forms ranging form jellyfish to coral. Installed against a stark dark background, the bright yellow, red and blue pieces seem to float in a black sea.

"The idea of using the black background behind the bright-colored glass was to make something very dramatic," Chihuly said. "Not something to easily miss."

A native of Tacoma, Wash., Chihuly, 48, began working in handblown glass in the mid-1960's and quickly achieved a national reputation with his "Pilchuck Baskets" series. In 1971, he founded the Pilchuck Glass School north of Seattle, now an international mecca for glass artists.

Chihuly completed his first architectural glass commission in 1973. Since then, he has continued to work on large-scale commercial development projects, although his career was briefly interrupted by the loss of an eye in an automobile accident in 1976.

Recent projects include pieces for the renovation of the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in New York; a new Hyatt Hotel in Adelaide, Australia; the Seattle Aquarium and a new bank building in Seattle. Chihuly recently accepted a commission for a large glass sculpture at the Library Tower Building in Los Angeles, where the proposed corporate art also will include a fresco by David Hockney.

"It's interesting how developers are all really getting interested in art work for their buildings—more so than architects," Chihuly said. "They've come to realize that a fancy lobby with marble, granite and glass isn't friendly enough. And the art often can add value."

But as artists become more involved in producing corporate art, other conflicts can arise.

Recently, Chihuly said, he met with the developer and architect of a new office building; the developer wanted to commission a glass sculpture. The architect argued that the piece would interfere with the lobby's open space—open, that is, except for a gold model of the building, Chihuly said.

"I said the model sounded just like an architect's idea and finally got the commission for the glass," he said.

Chihuly continues to experiment with a variety of more functional decorative art forms, a direction he sees leading to a closer union between developer and artist.

One of his latest concepts is hand blown glass chandeliers inspired by the Venetian art movement of centuries ago—a welcome alternative, he said, to mass-produced lighting fixture found in many commercial buildings.

©1989 The San Diego Union