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  1. Visual Arts

Peek inside the Chihuly Collection's new location in St. Petersburg

Workers install the Float Boat exhibit in the Chihuly Collection’s new location. The exhibit has a larger space then the old one. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Workers install the Float Boat exhibit in the Chihuly Collection’s new location. The exhibit has a larger space then the old one. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Oct. 13, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG

It's still a construction site, but the relocated Chihuly Collection still reveals many glimmers of its future in its new space at 720 Central Ave.

Workers, installation experts and executive director Andy Schlauch were hustling to finish the galleries and set up the retail store before a patrons' event Friday evening and grand opening Saturday. All will be in place by then, Schlauch said, and the glass vessels and multipiece works by Dale Chihuly, the most famous studio glass artist in the world, will be seen in many new lights.

And what a place it will be. The interior, with 11,000 square feet, has increased the footprint from the original Beach Drive space of 9,800 square feet. That big bump up has allowed the works to be reimagined, giving each more room.

"Everything was condensed" in its old iteration, which opened in 2010, Schlauch said. "This changes the progression of the space."

The layout of the eight galleries is U-shaped, beginning and ending at the store, which is adding new items to its inventory. Some elements, such as the curved steel wall, have been repurposed from the beautiful jewel box space the art first inhabited. A walkway with information panels about Chihuly's career lead to a gallery in which the Carnival Chandelier glows in solitary splendor. It's one of several in the chandelier series owned by the collection, all created using hundreds of individual glass forms.

In the old spot, they were displayed together in one gallery, a lovely massing of similar forms with different details and colors. But giving each a dedicated place allows for better appreciation of them.

The galleries shift from largesse to intimacy. A large portal opening onto a chandelier, for example, yields to the narrow corridor housing the Persian Ceiling. The Persian Wall allows a partial view of the Float Boat. And in a small gallery, the Tumbleweed hangs from a rotunda ceiling. Unlike the other pieces, it's lit from inside with neon blue and is the only one of its kind in a permanent collection, Schlauch said.

There are no new works, but I found myself feeling I was seeing some, such as that Tumbleweed, for the first time.

A large gallery for special exhibitions is part of the configuration, though Schlauch isn't planning one until late fall.

"I felt people would mostly come to see just the Chihuly Collection at first and it would be unfair to another artist who wouldn't get as much attention," he said.

Besides the luxury visitors will have of viewing the art in more open spaces, it will be a boon to planners of parties and special events, he said. When the outdoor courtyard is completed in early 2017, an additional 4,000 square feet will be added.

Many assumed that space in the parking garage above the Chihuly Collection and the still-under-construction Publix next door would be available, but it is dedicated to the supermarket's customers and those who work in a nearby office building.

"We have plenty of street parking," Schlauch said, "so it shouldn't be a problem."

Saturday, Central Avenue will be closed to traffic in front of the collection, which sits across the street from its owner, the Morean Arts Center. Food trucks and vendors will set up there for a free street party. Admission to the Chihuly includes a ticket to hot shop demonstrations at the Morean.

As the controlled chaos resolves itself into an elegant finale, Schlauch is able to focus more on the details. He must, for example, find the 2017 Chihuly calendars among the boxes stacked in the store, stat.

"A lady who lives in Naples calls us every year about this time to send her the new one," Schlauch said. "She needs it as soon as possible."

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