I have to confess to writing about Dale Chihuly’s exhibition of glass artworks at Kew Gardens rather late in the day. The show opened in April and closes at the end of next month (27 October), so time is running out if you want to see it.
I also have to confess that while Chihuly is one of the world’s most renowned and admired artists who has exhibited his work in major cities, museums and gardens worldwide … they’re not really ‘my thing’ … and this is probably why it’s taken me so long to get round to actually writing about the exhibition!
In the leaflet you’re given on entering the gardens, Chihuly is quoted as saying, ‘I want my work to appear like it came from nature, so that if someone found it on a beach or in the forest, they might think it belonged there.‘ For me, the fact that they are so bright and loud and stand out so obviously as you walk round the gardens is what I find hard to like – how could you think they belonged there? They want to be noticed.
Kew Gardens has had some wonderful exhibitions of great artists over the years – artworks placed in the gardens to see as you walk round – but it is Henry Moore’s glorious sculptures in 2007 and David Nash’s extraordinary and lovely wood sculptures made from dead trees in 2012 that resonated strongly with me. They fitted in more organically and seemed to really belong there. As you walked through the gardens and came across them, sometimes by surprise, it seemed they’d always been there, that they were part of the gardens. I remember the huge Moore’s that you could touch, feel and the delight of children running through them. The Chihuly’s – understandably – are not for touching.
A friend who came round the gardens with me a couple of weeks’ ago didn’t agree and thought they fitted in well. Then four days ago I took 4½ year old grandson Freddie to the gardens. Not specially to see the Chihuly, but just for a walk and runabout in what are to us, local gardens (I have a season ticket so come in a lot). I didn’t even point the Chihuly’s out, but it was when a loud ‘Wow!!’ erupted from Freddie as he spotted Chihuly’s ‘Sapphire Star’ …
… that I thought I should look at the sculptures differently. Freddie was clearly in awe and loved them.
It’s turned autumnal in London over the past week with bitter winds making the cooler temperatures feel even more cold. But with the sun shining this morning and the winds gentler, and a quiet Sunday ahead of me, it seemed the ideal time to return to Kew and take a closer look at Chihuly. I timed my arrival for opening time (10am) so I could enjoy the gardens while they were a bit quieter. I took a leaflet with a map showing me where I’d find the 12 Chihuly artworks and purposefully set off. I went in my usual direction and soon realised I was following the route back to front – seeing No.12 first. But it doesn’t actually matter; they don’t need to be seen in any special order.
If ‘Summer Sun’, just outside the Palm House, standing by the edge of the pond, is one of the brightest artworks, it is, I think, also one of the most glorious, capturing the strong energy and vibrance of a full sun.
When I was in the gardens in March, I saw the artworks being installed. It was fascinating and I wondered how an earth anyone knew how to put them together properly.
Just round the pond a bit, you’ll find ‘Paintbrushes’.
Walking round the Palm House, the Waterlily House is on the right, with Chihuly’s ‘Red Reeds’ outside.
Inside is the ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’, a glass and steel installation; the glass water lilies rising boldly above the real things – beautiful water lilies in bloom in the pond.
Next I sought out the ‘Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower’. As you can see in the photo with people looking up from below, it’s an enormous structure.
In the Mediterranean Garden, fronting the Italian-style King William’s Temple (built in 1837 for Queen Victoria in memory of King William), are the ‘Neodymium Reeds and Turquoise Marlins’.
Approaching the Temperate House, ‘Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds’ line the path.
The Temperate House reopened last year after 5 years of major renovation. It’s a stunning and beautiful building that was first opened in 1862. It’s the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse.
Inside you can climb a steep spiral staircase and walk round a balcony to see the plants from above. Of course at the moment it also gives you a good view of the Chihuly artworks too.
I loved the ‘Opal and Gold Chandelier’ hanging from the centre. The artworks here were much ‘quieter’ and seemed much more a natural part of the Temperate House’s little world. Even the brighter ones seemed more in keeping with its exotic touch.
Back outside, I made my way to the Japanese area with the large wooden Japanese Gateway and the Great Pagoda.
This is always a peaceful and tranquil area with the Gateway fronted by raked gravel, typical of a Japanese garden. At the moment Chihuly’s large glass balls – ‘Niijima Floats’ – rest on the gravel.
I was now at the far western edge of the gardens and so turned back towards the main Victoria Gate entrance (though you can enter and exit here through the smaller Lion Gate).
Once through the Roman Arch and approaching the Marianne North Gallery, I saw ‘Lime Crystal Tower’ to my left.
There were more Chihuly exhibits in the gallery but as a notice warned you were only to take photos for personal use, I thought I wouldn’t risk putting them on the blog and upsetting anyone …
Now I was nearly back at the main gate and saw again the ‘Sapphire Star’ that so enthralled and delighted Freddie. It is perhaps one of my favourites too.
I’ve looked at the Chihuly’s on and off over the past months whenever I’ve visited Kew Gardens but I’ve never taken the time to have a proper look before. They’ve just been things I’ve noticed in passing. (Well, you couldn’t really miss them!) I’m really glad I’ve looked properly now; I like that Freddie was excited by them. I found that some I liked; some I wasn’t so keen on. I haven’t been completely converted (give me Henry Moore any day), but I’ve learned and I’ve thought and what I most like is that I live so close to Kew Gardens and they are fantastic at putting on great shows like this. It’s a real privilege and pleasure to have the gardens so close to where I live.