How about a little Chihuly mania. The opening of the Chihuly Collection in downtown St. Petersburg on Sunday will mark the only permanent, museum-quality collection of famed glass artist Dale Chihuly's sculptures. An achievement like this deserves at least a few victory laps around Beach Drive in painted shoes . . . or maybe glass slippers. The addition of the Chihuly Collection, a 7,600-square-foot gallery filled with the dramatic swirls of colored glass that have made Chihuly a household name, will add to St. Petersburg's cachet as a destination for cultural tourists and a creatively dynamic place to live.
Pablo Picasso said, "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Consider St. Petersburg cleansed. The Chihuly Collection will bracket an exceptional arts corridor that includes St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts and the under-construction Dali Museum to the south, scheduled to open in January 2011.
Securing a home for Chihuly's works, valued at $6 million, almost didn't happen. The original plan — for the collection to be housed at an expanded Morean Arts Center on Central Avenue — collapsed when the economy tanked. Eventually, architect Albert Enrique Alfonso, a friend of Chihuly's, helped persuade the artist to consider an alternative to a custom building. The retrofitted retail space on the first floor of a high-rise condominium at 400 Beach Drive NE was not ideal — Chihuly's massive blown glass chandeliers would not hang from high ceilings — but Alfonso's designs for the smaller gallery spaces were remarkably rich, using materials such as wood and Venetian plaster to reference the Seattle-based artist's varied influences.
The opening of the Chihuly Collection coincides with the Morean Arts Center's new hot shop, where visitors can watch glass being blown and glass artists will have ready access to their craft's expensive equipment. What is being created has been dubbed the "Chihuly effect" where the concentration of these resources will build on itself. Acclaimed local glass artist Duncan McClellan has already opened a new studio in St. Petersburg.
It is rare that a city the size of St. Petersburg has such a cornucopia of fine arts offerings. And the Chihuly addition only reinforces St. Petersburg as an exceptional cultural destination. A little Chihuly mania for that achievement — and the raising of a glass (color and swirls optional)— is in order.