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Dale Chihuly and the gift of glass, colour, energy and light

In 1998 Hotel Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada asked American glass artist Dale Chihuly to create a piece for its lobby to "rival the aquarium at the Mirage." That year in his 200-worker studio in Seattle, Chihuly puzzled together a 50-square-metre glass ceiling from over 2,000 handblown glass flowers. Today Fiore Di Como, worth $3 million, is "the glory" of Las Vegas, a city of sparkling sights.
The list of accomplishments is seemingly endless for Chihuly, who at 60 is the world's most famous glass artists. Among his best known are a five-meter-high crystal gate in the Bahamas, a 15-meter-high orange mountain in Monaco and a seven-metre-high blue and green chandelier in England, each comprising hundreds of squiggly glass pieces placed together like a tangle of snakes.
Now Chihuly's work comes for the first time to Slovakia, where his grandfather was born. Twelve Chihuly originals were installed in the Bratislava City Gallery at Pálffy Palace November 19, donations from the artist. The pieces - worth over Sk20 million ($410,000) - will be moved to galleries, museums, universities and government buildings throughout the country following the exhibtion.


The Prussian Blue Persian set is one of the 12 works Chihuly has donated to Slovak museums and institutions.
photo: Courtesy Dale Chihuly

In 1998 Hotel Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada asked American glass artist Dale Chihuly to create a piece for its lobby to "rival the aquarium at the Mirage." That year in his 200-worker studio in Seattle, Chihuly puzzled together a 50-square-metre glass ceiling from over 2,000 handblown glass flowers. Today Fiore Di Como, worth $3 million, is "the glory" of Las Vegas, a city of sparkling sights.

The list of accomplishments is seemingly endless for Chihuly, who at 60 is the world's most famous glass artists. Among his best known are a five-meter-high crystal gate in the Bahamas, a 15-meter-high orange mountain in Monaco and a seven-metre-high blue and green chandelier in England, each comprising hundreds of squiggly glass pieces placed together like a tangle of snakes.

Now Chihuly's work comes for the first time to Slovakia, where his grandfather was born. Twelve Chihuly originals were installed in the Bratislava City Gallery at Pálffy Palace November 19, donations from the artist. The pieces - worth over Sk20 million ($410,000) - will be moved to galleries, museums, universities and government buildings throughout the country following the exhibtion.

"I donated them as a homage to my ancestor's homeland and in consideration of my long friendship with former American Ambassador to Slovakia Carl Spielvogel and especially his wife, Barbaralee Diamondstein-Spielvogel," said Chihuly, whose grandfather was born in Koškovce, an eastern Slovak village. The collection at Pálffy's Palace includes glass baskets, cylinders and giant seashells, each almost a metre in diameter and about two kilograms in weight. Light reflects off the grooves in the deep red, blue, yellow, and green glass so sharply and brightly that the pieces almost seem to have internal sources of energy.

"This is the most valuable gift a Slovak museum has ever received," said Ivan Jančár, director of the Bratislava City Gallery. "The most valuable gifts in the past had two fewer zeros."

"Chihuly has enriched Slovak cultural heritage for future generations," he said. "He forms separate glass pieces into shapes nobody has ever made before. Separate layers overlap smoothly in his work." Exhibited in more than 190 museums world-wide, Chihuly is best known for enormous and intricate installations, such as his 15-piece In the Light of Jerusalem 2000. Set in Jerusalem's Tower of David Museum, it includes the "Crystal Mountain", a 15-by-11-metre pyramid of 2,000 pink crystals.

His Bratislava exhibition represents another side of his work - smaller, self-contained, more subdued objects. The Jerusalem Cylinder #24, which will be placed in Bratislava's Museum of Jewish Culture, is a 50-centimtre-high translucent cylinder with brown streaks. From certain angles the cylinder appears to be a glass with pieces of ice floating on the outside.

Chihuly blew his first glass bubble with a plumber's pipe in 1965 while experimenting in his basement. The accidental discovery led to a fascination with glass. A year later he enrolled at the US's first university glassblowing program at the University of Wisconsin.

Since then he has introduced several innovations in glass art, including blowing glass around steel and using commercial neon and tinted Plexiglass containers in his work. He co-founded a glass school in the US and has collected several honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the US National Endowment for the Arts.

Chihuly has never been to Slovakia - while his Bratislava exhibition opened he was installing his work at the US's largest greenhouse in Chicago. But he has been to Prague, and he says he was inspired early in his career by Czech glass-blowing couple Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, whose work he saw at the Montreal World Exposition in 1967.

At present Chihuly, who has worn an eye patch since a 1976 accident in England damaged his left eye, is working on a collection for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

What: Dale Chihuly - glass work exhibition
Where: Bratislava City Gallery at Pálffy Palace, Panská 19.
When: open daily (except Mondays) between 10:00 and 17:00 until February 3
Price: Sk20-40
Tel: 02/5443-3627.
For more information on Dale Chihuly and colour photos of his work go to www.chihuly.com

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