It’s certainly an unlikely combination: glass artist Dale Chihuly and the vintage cars at the new LeMay museum. But each one represents a brand-new exhibition space, and each is celebrated by a glass show at the Museum of Glass.
The Dale Chihuly, of course, references the artist’s new splashy permanent show at the Seattle Center, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, which just opened yesterday. There, you can see all the enormous, vibrant glass that made this Tacoma-born artist famous – the Persian ceiling, the giant Macchia, the enormous installations of floats, ikebana and garden foliage. But the Museum of Glass hopes that the 400,000 estimated tourists at the CGG this year will also still come down to Tacoma – where, aside from all the other glass on offer – there’s now a small gallery full of early Chihuly works showing where all those vermillion curlicues came from. It also celebrates 50 years of the studio glass movement and the museum’s 10th anniversary.
The work begins in the 1970s with a pair of slumpy clear-beige goblets, plain yet showing hints of the wacky curves to come in their stems. Then from the artist’s 1980s days founding the Pilchuck School come Navajo-inspired baskets (and a couple of interesting Irish ones, cutely decorated with James Joyce’s likeness) and the first Macchia, in a range of sizes and colors as the artist explores how to create these blown glass shapes bigger and bigger, and rolled in glass shards to “spot” the colors. Their counterpart drawings show a softer side of Chihuly, with restrained watercolors and much more graphite shading than in his later paint splats.
There are two fascinating “Experimental Tiffanies,” vessels blown in iridescent mother-of-pearl glass and draped with mirrored glass beads all melted together like strands of mercury. Finally comes the pièce de resistance: an installation of 33 Persian Macchia, a gift to the museum’s permanent collection, and a fascinating combination of traditional cone shapes with the floaty jellyfish seaforms, all in wisteria hues of blue and pink.
The other big museum that’s opening up soon is the new LeMay car museum building just down the road in the Dome District. The Museum of Glass honors that with “Classic Heat,” a collaboration with artist John Miller (he of the oversized glass goblets currently on view at MoG) to create nine sculptures inspired by vintage car hood ornaments. Five will be on view at the LeMay in one of the alcoves on a lower concourse, while four sit on the balcony above the museum’s hot shop.
Glittering and abstract, the sculptures don’t resemble any particular make or model, but in taking elements from each and blowing them up to two feet high they attain a classic look of style and wealth. Each using mirrored gold glass with orangy-red elements, they combine wings with hexagons, circles and cones, taking on an intriguing quality like treasures from an ancient tomb – polished, redolent of luxury, yet unfathomable.
“Origins: Early Works by Dale Chihuly” runs through Oct. 21. “Classic Heat” runs through January, 2013. Opening hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday (including Memorial Day). $12/$10/$5/free for five and under. 1801 Dock St., Tacoma. 866-4-MUSEUM, museumofglass.org