Dale Chihuly at Drammens Museum

Open all year

Dale Chihuly, Drammens Museum Chandelier, 2012

How does something so unexpected and beautiful end up in the stairwell in Drammens Museum? This magnificent glass sculpture, is created by the American artist Dale Chihuly (b. 1941). Before we answer that question, a little about the artist: Dale Chihuly has his studio and Hot Shop in Seattle. Chihuly is today considered the world's leading glass artist. Based on studio glass and post-minimalism in the 1960s, he has developed a distinctive design language and today stands for a very varied and extensive artistry. In recent decades, art enthusiasts have seen increasingly extravagant and unique works and installations signed by Chihuly. He has now laid the entire art world at his feet and exhibited in prestigious private galleries, such as the Marlborough Gallery in New York, and he exhibits on a large scale at the world's leading art museums, such as the new De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (designed by the star architects Herzog and de Meuron) and in the new building of the renowned Boston Museum of Fine Arts (designed by Normann Foster himself). He has created major outdoor projects in Venice, Las Vegas and elsewhere, and his work today adorns everything from museum collections, private homes, urban spaces, opera houses, hotels and casinos. In addition to his work as an artist - Chihuly also works with drawing and painting - Chihuly has helped build an environment for glass art in Washington State, where Pilchuck Glass School since 1971 has been of great importance for the recruitment and development of glass artists. With this business, he has been instrumental in making Seattle, and the area around his hometown of Tacoma and the rest of the American North-West Coast, one of the strongest environments for today's international glass art. In Tacoma, there is now a new Museum of Glass, designed by the important Canadian architect Arthur Erickson and opened in 2002. The city of Seattle has invested heavily in disseminating Chihuly's art by building the newly opened Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Center, right at the foot of the famous Space Needle tower, built for the World's Fair in 1962 and still a popular tourist destination. Chihuly Garden and Glass has both a large collection indoors and an installation of partly monumental glass sculptures in the specially designed glass pavilion and the garden around the museum building itself. 

Chihuly works in teams. His work is of such size and complexity that a number of first-class glassblowers and technical personnel collaborate with him on the realization of the glass sculptures and installations. It is quite incredible that Drammens Museum has been able to achieve something as spectacular as this hanging glass sculpture, a "chandelier without light", but a hand-blown sculpture that receives and reflects light from the outside world, in the form of daylight and specially designed electric lighting. There is a great international demand for Chihuly's glass sculptures. Drammens Museum Chandelier is a work in extension of the giant Chandelier that was mounted under the large dome of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2001. As with us, its colors and composition were determined by the character and size of the stairwell. The road to a fully assembled sculpture has been long. Professionals who travel a lot internationally have followed Chihuly for a long time. But the event that gave the start to the project in Drammens Museum goes back almost 10 years, to a visit to the recently opened glass museum in Tacoma. The director of the Drammens Museum, who has been the project manager, was invited to the Pacific Lutheran University to give a lecture at Norway Days. There was a gala dinner in the glass museum and a large wall work by Chihuly was exhibited. The work was a bright yellow cascade of hand-blown glass, and the effect was overwhelming: "How is it possible to create something so overwhelmingly beautiful! -Is it at all possible to achieve something like that?" As a museum director in a museum with a fabulous collection of 18th century glass, the thought came: Is it possible to achieve something with Chihuly in Drammen?

It seemed every now and then like a distant dream, like something too big, expensive and complicated. During the Norway Days seminar, the Museum's representative met an old acquaintance from Drammen, then as now, Norwegian Consul in Seattle, Kim Nesselquist. There and then there was not much talk about a Chihuly project. But the idea continued to inspire and it was Nesselquist who a few years later managed to open the door to Chihuly himself and his team, which in itself is a bit of a feat and absolutely crucial to what was to happen. Representatives from Drammens Museum and its partners in the Norwegian academy and the museum world have visited the artist on several occasions in recent years, but the idea of having a permanent sculpture here only began to take shape two years ago. During these studio visits, many suggestions have been discussed. Chihuly has always been interested in doing something in Norway, since this was the first time something like this would happen. When we began to discuss a "hanging glass sculpture" in the large stairwell, it quickly dawned on him: that was where he wanted to create a work. After this, there has been a great dialogue with the artist. He took as his starting point the light and colors of the room, as well as the collection of historical mirrors and classical and baroque painting. He prepared three proposals for Drammens Museum and discussed color choices with us. You now see the result of this. The sculpture is composed of 180 individually blown parts. It alternates between spherical shapes and many, meandering, flaming glass tongues. The shape of each of these is a result of the glowing glass mass being pressed into steel molds with different groove patterns, before each part is blown and hand-shaped into the elongated, twisted mold. A steel skeleton is made to which each of the parts is attached with steel wire. The actual installation took place at the beginning of August 2012 and is in itself a work of art, and it is done from the style in the stairwell by the artist and musician Jeff Gerber, who has worked in the Chihuly Team for 16 years. 

Dale Chihulys draws his inspiration first and foremost from the process itself and the possibilities that lie in blowing stained glass. However, the shapes that come out of it are not only determined by the phenomenology of glassblowing. He draws inspiration for form from both nature and culture. It is especially the marine life of fjord arms and the straits between the islands around Tacoma and Seattle that inspires his Sea Forms, or the cold winters in the mountain ranges behind, with their snowmelt and icicles. The cultural impulse comes largely from the Native American culture of the western United States. Chihuly is very interested in their art, and he collects colorful rugs and beautiful wicker baskets and interprets the experience of this in glass. But he is also completely immersed in the European glass tradition as it was developed in northern Italy and on Murano in the Renaissance and Baroque. Drammens Museum Chandelier carries on part of the European tradition. The shape is baroque and expansive, the colors cool and harmonious. With the freshness that the glass sculpture expresses, this becomes a contemporary work of art that forms a bridge to older European art, as seen on the walls in the stairwell. The work is in dialogue with its SLRs and the gilded mirror frames. The cool color scheme contrasts with the warm color of the room, and the small touch of warm, golden glass creates the connection between the art on the walls and the freshness of our Chandelier.

Such a work would have been impossible to finance from Drammens Museum's purchasing budget. The plant was therefore purchased by Sparebankstiftelsen DNB NOR. The Sparebankstiftelsen is a partner and owner here, which deposits this specially made work of art in Drammens Museum's large stairwell. The fact that this work can be seen permanently in Drammens Museum is an example of the significant contribution the Sparebankstiftelsen DNB NOR makes to the Norwegian museum system. Dale Chihuly's Drammens Museum Chandelier provides an invaluable addition to our offer to the public.

├ůsmund Thorkildsen, museum director and project manager