Glass sculptures are commonly thought of as beautiful but fragile things best kept indoors—or at least behind a glass case. Not so with the works of Dale Chihuly, who has for decades assembled his colorful blown glass artworks into awe-inspiring installations around the world. His first major Asian exhibition, Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom, at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, is a testament to the eminent artist’s mastery of this complex medium.
Chihuly studied glassblowing at the Rhode Island School of Design before earning his chops at the prestigious Venini glass factory in Venice. In 1971 he cofounded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State, which would later be known for its comprehensive glass art curriculum. Since then, he has been featured in more than 200 exhibitions and museum collections worldwide. Now 80 years old, he remains one of the leading proponents of avant garde in glass as fine art.
Glass in Bloom presents an impressive snapshot of Chihuly’s body of work, with masterpieces curated from over 50 years of his distinguished career. The Gardens’ Bayfront Pavilion hosts a walk-though display that introduces the audience to Chihuly’s artistic realm. Here, longtime fans will no doubt recognize the eye-popping patchwork of colors that define the Macchia sculptures and the uncannily lifelike Ikebana series, which Chihuly conceived in the 1980s. There’s also the surreal Garnet Flame Baskets, an exuberantly hued update to his Baskets collection from the 1970s.
Beautiful as these samples are, it is the larger-than-life outdoor installations that steal the imagination. Glass may be an amorphous solid borne from molten sand, but in the hands of Chihuly it takes on an almost organic quality. These cold, crystalline shapes resemble bulbs, saplings, leaves, or petals—and they all seem to be in perpetual motion. There are 25 of these masterpieces scattered throughout the park grounds. Some are rendered in grand scale and placed on a pedestal, like the fiery red-and-yellow Setting Sun (made specifically for Singapore) and its counterpart, the midnight-hued Moon. Others are placed in a more intimate setting, almost as if these colorful glass forms are a new species of flora. Standing amid lush greenery, Red Bamboo Reeds and Tiger Lilies, in particular, feel like they truly belong in this tropical setting.
Many of these artworks are placed almost within human reach. Roam the gardens without consulting the exhibition map, and you’re bound to come across some pleasant surprises: There’s a flock of waterbirds frolicking on a river (Yellow Herons) and strange masses of twisting tubes that form glistening towers of glass (there are five, each bearing a unique palette). Near the forest canopy, suspended on overhead railings or seemingly growing beside the Cloud Forest Dome’s impressive man-made waterfall are ornate floral chandeliers that literally burst with color and detail. There’s also an unmarked “mystery sculpture” taken from Chihuly’s Boats series. (We won’t ruin the surprise for you, but it’s at the Victoria Lily Pond—and yes, it features a boat.)
It would take at least three leisurely hours to truly take in and appreciate Glass in Bloom. That said, we recommend seeing it at least twice, at different times of day. In the morning, the sculptures shimmer in the sun, their vibrant hues contrasting with the greenery around them. At dusk, they give off an eerie glow. Set against Singapore’s iconic skyline and accompanied by the sounds of nature’s evening shift, these surreal glassworks truly come alive.
Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom is on display at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay from May 1 to August 1, 2021. The Exhibit is divided into the Outdoor Gardens and the dome conservatories (Flower Dome and Cloud Forest Dome). Entrance costs SGD$20 (US$15) for one section or SGD$30 (US$23) for both. Tickets can only be purchased online, with visits to be made at prearranged times.
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