Studio glass has many permutations, as we have seen over the years in group shows of the medium in museums and galleries. Yet the constant presence of the Chihuly Collection featuring the dramatic, permanent installations of international art star Dale Chihuly perhaps blunts, in our minds, the variety of interpretations that can be brought to glass.
Remedying that is an 800-square-foot space in the collection's home in downtown St. Petersburg to showcase other fine glass artists who seek different results from the material. It was created when the areas used for guest services and a small shop were reconfigured for special exhibitions within the permanent gallery space, and a spacious, free-standing store that opens directly onto Beach Drive.
Kait Rhoads, the current featured artist, like Chihuly, is based in Seattle, the art glass capital of the world. And like Chihuly, her work is inspired by natural forms. But her work won't remind you of his. It will remind you of some of glass' other creative possibilities.
Most pieces in this show have a fascinating intricacy to their construction. Small, irregular orbs are made from cane glass cut into circles woven together with copper wire in an effect that resembles crochet. Some of them also reference the ragged hollows and squishy texture of a natural sponge. Three panels above them also have marine themes. The most beautiful of the trio is an underwater landscape of wavy green plants on a peach background.
Bloom is composed of four wall panels that showcase Rhoads' talent with murrine, a type of cane glass formed from multiple layers of colors that often form patterns. Here, cherry trees in full flower are presented as a field of pink that resolves into recognizable petals and shifts to an Impressionist blur, giving it the illusion of movement in a breeze. The blooms are grounded by strong horizontal bands of brown branches that have a passing connection to the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany's stained glass.
Doublehut is another woven work, made of little tubes colored and woven with nylon (resembling straw) as if the material were bamboo instead of glass. The little hut cleaves to the larger one, suggesting a sweet maternal connection.
The most complex work is Red Polyp, also woven, but with grander ambitions than the other works. It's the color and shape of red coral, made from hundreds of hollow, densely connected murrine. It has a bit of sparkle and much complexity when studied up close.
Though not as fascinating, Blue Dome steals the show because of its size and interactivity. Hundreds of blue plate-glass panels are fashioned into a tent that's over 8 feet high. Walk in! Take a selfie!
A good exhibition installation is not an easy thing. The way you see the art should enhance it, and lighting plays a huge part, though it shouldn't call attention to itself. Terrific examples designed by director Andy Schlauch are in this show. Take particular notice of Black Widow, a wall panel of matted black and white glass (looking like ceramics), a sinister title for a lovely clutch of flowers, given greater loveliness by the three shades of gray shadows that lighting casts on the wall behind it.
After enjoying the exhibition, I strolled through the Chihuly Collection Store and found some great gift ideas. Of course, there are Chihuly-branded items aplenty, from art packs for kids to expensive glass objects, but it's also stocked with items such as soaps and jewelry made by area artisans and — a surprise — a special coffee blend, Smoky Glass, developed by Kahwa Coffee. It's another reminder that many museums and galleries have retail areas for unique shopping and gift-giving.
Contact Lennie Bennett at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.