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Curious George and the Precious Breakable Chihuly Masterpieces

This months Free-for-All Saturday at RISD Museum celebrates the grand opening of The Chace Center. Saturday, September 26 is an all-day (and evening) admission-free party to welcome visitors of every age. Opportunities abound to view new exhibitions (including Chihuly at RISD and Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay), watch family-friendly performances, participate in hands-on activities, and enjoy live music. Visit the museum website for a complete schedule. Contributing writer Laurel McLaughlin reviews the Chihuly at RISD show for Kidoinfo. She will review Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay show in a future post.

Chihuly 080810 03I’ll admit it, when I first thought about visiting the Dale Chihuly show at the new Chace Center at the RISD Museum, all I could envision was my two-year-old tearing through the gallery space while I followed, horror-stricken. It played out like one of those Curious George stories where the little monkey has brought about some sort of hideous and expensive devastation and the whole town ends up chasing after him. So, when I recently attended the media preview of the show (without kids) I was thinking of this; Is it possible to enjoy these exquisite and highly fragile masterpieces with children in tow? The answer is yes (see tips below)–this show is pure magic and none of us should miss this opportunity to enjoy great art.

The first thing that awaits you is the Persian Chandelier. Like most of Chihuly’s work, this was created specifically for the RISD venue. You move beneath a profusion of multihued glass forms illuminated meticulously to allow gentle, colored light to filter onto the wall. An intriguing aspect of his work is how Chihuly succeeds in defying the properties of his medium. The liveliness of the color and form suggests movement and growth, which we usually don’t associate with glass. Also, the scale of the installation merges the art with the viewer’s physical space.

Chihuly 080810 08

Chihuly’s drawings form a grid across the next wall. As with the glass objects, the artist uses heat, color and a bit of serendipity to create these lively compositions. They seem almost to have formed themselves. He uses paintbrushes, brooms and squirt bottles to apply the paint and there is an amazing sense of joy and vigorous energy to them. I might ask my girls how they think the artist feels as he’s making these works. I know they’ll be thrilled to learn that all of his shoes are covered with paint.

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Beyond the drawings to your left is the Mille Fiori installation. The gallery walls (specially designed for this exhibit) were built in a circular form around a garden of swirling and rounded shapes. The darker palette lends a quieter, meditative feeling to the work. Chihuly often says that he’s never met a color he doesn’t like, and each one of the installations at the museum invokes a slightly different mood as a result of this variety. I’m curious to hear how my kids might respond to each color palette and how they will choose to describe them.

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The glowing lavender spires emerging from birch tree trunks in Chihuly’s Neodymium Reeds, 2008 calls to mind the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. The installation is informed by our complex and varied American landscape tradition and it pushes the boundaries of that genre. Neodymium Reeds, with its formal, balanced composition expresses a reverential feeling of arcadia and creates a playful dialogue with many of the older, more traditional pieces in the RISD Museum’s collection such as a Thomas Cole or Martin Heade. A fun activity might be to ask kids to compare this piece with one of the Museum’s 18th- or 19th-century landscapes.

The last images in the show are three large-scale baskets, again masterfully illuminated are displayed on dark steel slabs. Inspired by Northwest Coast Indian baskets, these works are astounding technical achievements. The final shape really allows us to envision the way they were created; changing and bending as they responded to the heat of the furnace and the centrifugal force manipulated by the artist. The result is a wonderfully organic and vibrant tour de force of glass and light. They show Chihuly’s unique willingness to allow his pieces to create themselves.

So here are my tips for bringing our kidos:
– Take the time to prepare little monkeys that they are about to see something very special and that it will fun to look together.
– Remind your children that they are not allowed to touch the art. Hold hands with little ones at all times.
– The space is laid out beautifully, so that there are no surprises–no towering glass columns around a corner that you can’t see ahead of time.
– Contemporary art is a wonderful treat for young ones and it enriches your own enjoyment of the experience. Ask your kids many open-ended questions and follow-up questions.
– Get down to their eye level when it’s comfortable for you. If they feel engaged and acknowledged they will be wonderful participants in the experience.
– Cater to their inner Curious George and your own. Do they like science? You can talk about the way light behaves or how heat changes things. Mythology more your thing? They could learn about Hephaestus or Vulcan.
– Don’t expect too much of little monkeys. Unless children are older, it’s usually easiest to keep museum visits short and frequent. It ensures their full attention, plus it gives them time to process what they’ve seen. There is a wealth of other exhibits to come back and enjoy.
– Generally speaking, you can bring your stroller or front pack infant carrier into the museum. However, during busy times the museum reserves the right to ask that strollers stay in the coatroom to allow for more space in the galleries. Metal-framed baby backpacks and jogging strollers are not allowed in the Museum at any time. All large backpacks must be checked before entering the exhibition. There are self-serve coat-check rooms located in the Chace Center Lobby and at the Farago Lobby.
– Food will be provided by Cafe Choklad starting in October.

The details about admission to the Dale Chihuly show:
(Complete list of Chihuly at RISD: FAQs)

How do I obtain tickets to the exhibition?
There are several ways to obtain timed tickets to Chihuly at RISD. Advance tickets to the Chihuly at RISD exhibition are now available through ArtTix RI. Purchase your tickets online at ArtTixRI.com or call the Info Line at 401 621-6123. You may also purchase tickets at the ArtTix box office, located at 155 Westminster Street. The ArtTix box office is open Monday through Friday from 12 noon to 6 pm. You may also purchase tickets the day of your visit at the Museum’s Visitor Services Desks.

Do members still receive free admission to Chihuly at RISD?
Yes. Members receive free admission to Chihuly at RISD as part of their membership benefits but should plan accordingly during busy times as it is possible that certain times will be sold out. Members may get their timed tickets at the front desk on the day of their visit. Even if earlier times are sold out, members will be offered the next available times. In order to ensure a speedy entrance, please have your membership card available for the Visitor Services staff.

Do I need a ticket during times the Museum is normally free?
Chihuly at RISD will be free to the public with timed entry tickets during our regular free admission periods such as Gallery Night, Free-for-all Saturday and Pay-what-you-wish Sunday mornings until 1 pm. These tickets are available only at the Museum Visitor Services desks during these times.

What agreement do you have with Providence Children’s Museum?
If you are a member of Providence Children’s Museum present your membership card (during September & October, 2008) at RISD Museum and receive 2 for 1 admission. You will still need to get timed tickets at the front desk on the day of their visit. See details above.

Image Captions (All works by Dale Chihuly):

Persian Chandelier
, 2008
Chihuly at RISD
Providence, RI
Photography by Erik Gould

Chihuly Drawings, 2008
Chihuly at RISD
Providence, RI
Photography by Erik Gould

Mille Fiori, 2008
Chihuly at RISD
Providence, RI
Photography by Erik Gould

Neodymium Reeds, 2008
Chihuly at RISD
Providence, RI
Photography by Erik Gould

Laurel McLaughlin has a Masters in Art History from Brown University. She lives in Rehoboth her husband and two girls. Writing about art is one of her many passions.

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  • No way Katy that honor goes to you! Plus your posts always make me so hungry. I might just appear in your kitchen one of these days. 🙂

    Thanks for the added suggestion Kathleen. The RISD staff probably feel a little nervous, given the fragile nature of the art. I like your idea of smiling sweetly because that probably reassures them that we, as parents, have it covered! 🙂

  • We just returned from this exhibit. It was wonderful, and the photos above don’t do it justice.

    However…be warned that the museum staff/guards are very high strung when it comes to children in the Chihuly exhibit. My two (who were very mellow) were pounced on more than once for getting within 6 inches of a display table, even though there was no room to be anywhere else, we were inches from the kids, and tons of adults were actually touching the tables.

    So…the advice to hold hands at all times is good advice, and the resolve to smile sweetly at the staff who are a bit on edge today will get you pretty far. And perhaps come again on a day that’s not so busy.

    I realize the staff has a job to do, but if your kids are in the least wiggly or prone to running around, there may be a better day to go.