Today I visited the new Dale Chihuly exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. It’s a breathtaking exhibit, thoughtfully staged in the basement of the museum’s new wing where the light can be carefully controlled. For those unfamiliar with Chihuly’s work, he is an artist who works primarily with blown glass. His breathtaking, large-scale glass sculptures can be found all over the world – in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, in Canada, in just about every state in the U.S., and in the new Palm Hotel in Dubai. A car accident that left him with vision in only one eye brought him to painting in order to instruct his students and collaborators on glass projects. Now his drawings, lithographs, and paintings are quite popular as well.
The MFA installation is really breathtaking. Huge structures, artfully curated for maximum reflection and impact. My favorite was this wooden boat, overflowing with Chihuly glass baubles, set on a glass surface that reflects back their brilliant colors. Equally interesting was a room full of glass sculptures inspired by Native American blankets and baskets. Just how he forms glass into that floppy basket shape, I’ll never know.
But I have to say that the most intriguing part of the exhibit for me was watching the visitors, watching the exhibit. We went on a Saturday, so the place was packed, and people were snapping photos all around me. Cameras, iPhones, cell phones, video cams – the rooms reeled with the secondary light source of theri flashes, green viewfinder lighting, and the glow of LED screens. It was really remarkable. What’s going on here? Of course, it might simply be because they could (unlike most art installations, in this one, camera flashes would not hurt the art objects and so photography was permitted). But I think there’s more to it than that. I have noticed a marked change in our perception of an art experience. With these amazing technology tools, always within our reach, and the ease of sharing the products we create, we have morphed from “passive audience” to producer participants. I would wager that those cell-phone-camera images will not just sit on their owner’s cell phones. Rather, the visitors who took them will be printing, emailing, geo-locating, uploading, mashing, soda-snapping, twitpic-ing them with all of their friends and families. And in the process of doing that, they are evaluating, comparing, synthesizing, reporting, and connecting. “Which was your favorite?” “How does this compare to the piece you saw in Dallas? ” “Get a load of that blue!!” “Could we try to make something like this?” Who knows, maybe even a few of them are blogging about their experience – right now.