The Ultimate in Garden Art: The Chihuly Exhibit at Phipps Conservatory
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 13, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Every gardener can identify with Phipps Conservatory’s continual efforts to create space for more and larger plants since its founding in 1893. Phase one of the most recent and ambitious expansion effort was completed just two years ago. The architecture of the soaring glass canopies and the extensive plant collections beneath them caught the eye and the remarkable imagination of Dale Chihuly.
| This extraordinary exhibit is not just about displaying unique pieces of glass. It is about an art installation designed especially for a unique botanical setting. In a studio or museum environment, Chihuly’s glass pieces might seem bizarre or merely fanciful. In the conservatory, they somehow seem right at home – the ultimate in garden art! |
Every room of the conservatory has a different mood, played up by the glass installations.
Soft blue pieces in the Japanese Courtyard resemble cranes, elegant and serene.
|The Sunken Garden room houses |
Chihuly’s graceful “Macchia,”
set between dripping fountains.
|Playful twists of glass in Mardi Gras colors rise from an explosion of jungle foliage. The round Niijima Floats have a more subtle beauty, echoed in the patterned variegation of the elephant ears edging the pond.|
| Every turn of the pathway brings you to a different view, whether it's this striking installation in the butterfly garden or a sweet surprise like these little stream-side shapes. |
The translucent colors of the art glass shift with every change in the sun and clouds.
At night, each piece is carefully illuminated, and the mood of the entire exhibit changes again.
|The colors of the glass accent the plants that surround them. The bright red “birthday candles” of glass seem suitable to the celebration of greenery in the new Thai exhibition.|
|Purple exclamations of glass counterpoint the golden tones of the cacti in the Desert Room. |
Blue and aqua shades set off the silvery foliage of the display in the East Room.
|The forms and colors in some of the glass pieces imitate the plant growth around them. In this enormous container planting, it's hard to see where the plants leave off and the artwork begins. Other pieces are smaller in scale, tucked into nooks under arching greenery.|
|Many pieces resemble leaves or flame-like flowers on undulating stems. The golden funnel shaped pieces caught my eye, rising from the undergrowth like some fantastic fungus.|
I grew up in Pittsburgh, so Phipp's Conservatory has long been on my list of favorite places. Their seasonal shows and holiday displays are always spectacular, but the Chihuly exhibit was far beyond anything I could imagine. The new spaces and revitalized plantings alone are worth a special trip to the Conservatory to see. With the added opportunity to see an unparalled exhibit of Chihuly's art, Phipp's deserves to be high on your "must see" list this winter.
For additional information on Dale Chihuly’s art and installations, go to chihuly.com.
Take five minutes to enjoy this video tour of Chihuly at Phipps, including some remarkable night time views of the exhibit. There are higher and lower resolution versions of the video available to choose from, depending on the speed of your internet connection.
For information, directions, hours, and exhibit tickets, go to Chihuly at Phipps: Gardens and Glass. You'll find additional information about Phipps Conservatory and its history at that site also.
Photography by Jill M. Nicolaus, July 2007.