Art in a glass of its own at Gardens by the Bay

Dale Chihuly, the 79-year-old American glass artist, presents his first major garden show in Asia in all its colourful and fantastical whimsy. Titled Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom, the exhibition showcases 25 magnificent, large-scale glass installations, as well as more than 80 pedestal sculptures and two-dimensional works in the fitting setting of Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

Art has a way of comforting the mind, relaxing the body and enlivening the spirit – even more so at a difficult time like this when many people are struggling to hold on to the few moments of calm and respite. Behold Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom, which attempts to provide a glimmer of hope, or rather a vibrant message of joy, amid the pall of the pandemic. 

Delayed due to Covid-19 last year, Dale Chihuly’s magnificent creations finally found a temporary home at Singapore’s iconic Gardens by the Bay. Scattered across the mesmerising landscapes, 25 of the American artist’s stunning large-scale, blown-glass installations become one with their tropical surroundings waiting to be discovered by those seeking tranquillity and restoration.

The exhibition also showcases several of Mr Chihuly’s smaller pedestal sculptures, as well as paintings and drawings that convey his ideas to his production team, who he depends on to fulfil his vision. Physical impairments – a dislocated right shoulder from a body surfing accident, and a lack of depth perception from a car crash in 1976 that cost him his vision in his left eye – made glass blowing impossible for Mr Chihuly. None of these challenges, however, have stopped him from being incredibly prolific for more than half a century.

Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom is the pioneering artist’s first major garden exhibition in Asia and “a strong testament to Singapore’s standing as an ideal location to showcase the work of leading global artists,” says Keith Tan, Chief Executive, Singapore Tourism Board.

“We hope Singapore residents will enjoy this spectacular, ‘first-in-Asia’ visual art experience, and in time to come, we hope our international visitors can experience it too,” he adds. 

Dale Chihuly, Yellow Herons, 2007 at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, installed 2021. (Photo by Nathaniel Willson, © Chihuly Studio. All Rights Reserved)

Setting up the Exhibition

The blockbuster exhibition was originally projected to open in October 2020, but the delay gave organiser Hustle & Bustle more time to set the stage. 

Being heavily inspired by nature in his works, Mr Chihuly was instantly taken by the tropical landscapes of Gardens by the Bay. Once the location had been finalised between Mr Chihuly’s team and the organisers, the artist’s team came down to conduct thorough documentation, following which the artist carefully chose the locations for each of his installations. The artworks were then shipped from Seattle and installed on location over the course of a month. The installation process required the artist’s teams and local engineers to work closely to make the exhibition come to life. 

Captivated by the artist’s personal story of overcoming several obstacles in his artistic journey while also battling bipolar disorder, as well as sight and mobility disabilities, the organisers hope to inspire resilience in audiences, by highlighting the artist’s accomplishments despite the difficulties he has faced.

We are captivated by his life story and view this momentous exhibition as an opportunity to share his inspirational story with the rest of Singapore, despite the challenges of putting together a show of this scale in the midst of a pandemic,” says Michael Lee, CEO of Hustle & Bustle.

Dale Chihuly, Ethereal White Persians, 2018 at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, installed 2021. (Photo by Nathaniel Willson, © Chihuly Studio. All Rights Reserved)

Highlight of the Exhibition

Designed specifically for the exhibition in Singapore, the Setting Sun is an exemplary example of how Mr Chihuly pushes the boundaries of glass blowing, experimenting with scale, form, light and colour. A 14-metre fiery ball of red and yellow, flame-like tentacles, the artwork burns bright against the backdrop of the towers of Marina Bay Sands.

Other highlights include the Ethereal White Persians emitting tranquillity in a water fountain at the Serene Garden, the Float Boat, and Floats and Walla Wallas, the artist’s signature creations splashing their vibrant hues across the Dragonfly Lake, and the Blue and Purple Boat displaying its supernatural tentacles in the Victoria Lily Pond. Some of Mr Chihuly’s artworks are also housed within the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, feeling at home and imbuing additional charm to the world-renowned, cooled conservatories.   

While the larger-than-life installations are truly impressive and pay homage to some of Mr Chihuly’s biggest career milestones, the works housed within the Glass in Bloom Gallery (Bayfront Pavilion) reveal a lot more about his artistic process.

The two-dimensional drawings and process paintings hung beside the actual works, give you the opportunity to see his works come to life almost in real time. The pedestal artworks also provide an insight into the artist’s inspirations and motivations. For instance, the subtle hints of American Indian culture that inspired him while growing up in Tacoma, Washington comes through in the Baskets series of artworks, and the Persians, another recurring motif in his works honours his love for the Far East. 

Dale Chihuly, Blue and Purple Boat, 2006 at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, installed 2021. (Photo by Nathaniel Willson, © Chihuly Studio. All Rights Reserved)

Art in Nature

Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom creates an atmosphere of serenity and beauty. By giving viewers the opportunity to discover the works scattered across the Gardens and examine them intimately, it allows them to escape into a fascinating world of fine art and nature. Mr Chihuly’s mystical creations encourage visitors to appreciate the beauty of nature all around them by complementing it rather than overpowering it.

“With overseas travel still some time away, we hope locals will come experience these magical creations by one of the world’s most celebrated glass artist in the modern era,” encourages Felix Loh, Chief Executive officer, Gardens by the Bay.

Dale Chihuly, White Tower, 1997, and other installations at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, installed 2021. (Photo by Nathaniel Willson Credit: © Chihuly Studio. All Rights Reserved)

Here are five facts you might not know about glass art:

  1. Only a small amount of air is needed to blow glass, about the same amount required to blow out a candle.
  2. The roots of glassblowing trace as far back as 2,000 years, with Syrians believed to be the first people to blow glass in the first century BC.
  3. Glass is made from high-quality sand, cooked up from a purified form of silica mixed with additives, like soda and lime.
  4. Molten glass has the same temperature as volcano lava.
  5. Dale Chihuly holds the record for the largest glass art in the world.

Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom is organised by Hustle & Bustle, presented by Bank of Singapore and OCBC Premier Private Client and supported by the Singapore Tourism Board.

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