Tacoma is Dale Chihuly’s hometown, and there’s a surfeit of the artist’s work and life on view here this summer. At Tacoma Art Museum, “Dale Chihuly’s Northwest” opens Saturday, showcasing some of this glass artist’s early work as well as his vast collections; while at Traver Gallery there’s brand new work in the silvered “Soft Cylinder” series, a space-agey departure from the vividly colored elaborations we’re so familiar with.
“Dale Chihuly’s Northwest,” opening at TAM this weekend, was intended both to honor the artist for his contributions to the city and give an idea of what inspires him, based on how he organizes the Northwest room at his Seattle Boathouse studio. Chihuly has certainly done a lot for Tacoma – the Bridge of Glass, the Hilltop Artists program at Jason Lee, inspiring the Museum of Glass and the public works on display around the museum district – so it’s certainly appropriate to have the show here, even though this means a Chihuly overload at TAM, with their own collection taking up yet another gallery.
And the exhibit is definitely worth seeing. The museum’s largest gallery is filled, depth and height, with the ochre earth tones of Chihuly’s “Tabac Baskets,” cylinder and basket series nestled together with actual Indian woven baskets from the State History Museum’s collection, an entire wall of Pendleton blankets (collected by the artist, and used by him to inspire his “woven” glass threads) and opposite that another entire wall of photogravures by Edward S. Curtis of Native Americans. Overhead hang two early 20th-century canoes made on Day Island near Tacoma by the Willits Brothers, and across the floor spread two gigantic tables, carved on Chihuly’s direction from a single fallen log, and supporting both the translucently smoky “Tabac Baskets” and the stunningly cobalt “Black Baskets.” There are even six “Pilchuck Stumps,” a rarely-seen series of greeny-brown, wrinkled glass forms made in the early days of Chihuly’s Pilchuck Glass School.
The room’s overall effect of color, natural materials and glass will stop you in your tracks. But as an indicator of Chihuly’s thought processes, it’s limited. This is a man who’s not only inspired by woven baskets but by iridescent coral, who obsessively collects blankets and photogravures, yes, but also things like retro chairs and scooters. This small-scale version of the Northwest Room is as selective and organized as the man himself is multipartite and diffused.
Over at Traver Gallery is a good example of this. In the biggest show of his new series of “Soft Cylinders,” featuring both clear and mirrored glass coated with silver nitrate, Chihuly takes a space-age turn. Around the main gallery, the clear and the silvered alternate: both criss-crossed with the artist’s signature threads, but different as night and day. The clear use pastels, gentle and ambiguous; the silvered (with a basilica-like gold coating inside) blast out peacock blue and blood-red, aggressive, even fierce. In the back gallery is an all-white series of both slumped and straight cylinders, their gray threads muddying the white like clouds and picking up the light with a transparent glow.
“Dale Chihuly’s Northwest” is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday (10 a.m.-8 p.m. third Thursdays) through September 25 at Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. $10/$8/free for five and under and third Thursdays 5-8 p.m. 253-272-4258, www.tacomaartmuseum.org
“Dale Chihuly” is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday through July 24 at Traver Gallery, 1821 E. Dock St. #100, Tacoma. 253-383-3685, www.travergallery.com