In 2004 the Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg held a major exhibition of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. In what would become a prelude to a permanent Chihuly presence in St. Petersburg, the Museum filled its first floor galleries with the maestro’s art.
My friend Rima persuaded me to go, with the promise of lunch and a quick ride in her sleek BMW. I was not disappointed - by lunch, Bavarian cars, or Chihuly. At the Museum we wandered from gallery to gallery, astonished by the sheer exuberance and versatility of Chihuly and company. His swirling sculptural creations have become for many the epitome of the beautiful object.
On the way out, we passed through a room with a small collection of Pre-Columbian Art. My senses had been primed by Chihuly’s flashy glass, but they were pounded by the sight of Meso-American pottery pieces – clay statues of gods and goddesses, warriors, priests, and effigy animals. These works, from before the time of Christ to the 15th Century and all artisan made, radiated primal energy, earthiness, and mystery.
Their self-assured presence reminded me of Archaic Greek statuary, but with more power and scariness. I was so transfixed, my friend had to pull me away from the glass cases. I saw my own art in there, or what I wanted my art to be.
Two exhibitions – one of beautiful objects and the other of mysterious objects. Both are legitimate modes of expression and both have their respective advocate groups. Which am I?
Several years later, Chihuly made a personal appearance at the Arts Center in St. Petersburg. Rima surprised me with the gift of his splashy coffee-table book and we stood in line for an hour to get his signature in it. The book now sits on my shelf, lost among others of African, Mexican, Indian and Oceanic art.