August 1st, 2008

Big Bird and Chihuly

I learned art appreciation from Big Bird and Baby Bear on Sesame Street when Syd was little and 4:00 attendance at the couch was mandatory. (This was not a problem because I love Sesame Street and appreciate the folks who make it for putting in things for grown-ups to enjoy, too.) Big Bird and Baby Bear went to the MOMA in New York, where they looked at a Jackson Pollock painting. Big Bird said it reminded him of ice cream drips. Finally! An art viewer who spoke my language!

Yesterday, the lovely and talented Elizabeth took Syd and T.R. and me to the DeYoung Museum, where we got to see an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s art. He works mostly in glass, although there were conceptual paintings in the exhibit as well. Those Big Bird skills came in handy. We saw glass sculptures that Syd described as demented Hershey’s kisses. We saw Audrey II glass plants. We saw a chandelier that resembled the comets in The Empire Strikes Back. We saw a boat full of plants straight out of the imaginations of Dr. Seuss and Tenniel. We walked through a room that felt like the inside of a kaleidoscope because the ceiling was glass and above it were many colorful glass works and above that there were lights to filter the colors over us.

Being me, I had to chew over what I saw.

I started to wonder what it meant that I had to make an analogy for each work—seeing them as water lilies floating in an up-ended pond, as escaped stained glass windows pooling light onto the walls, as eggs likely to hatch some glowing and fiery bird. I considered the sheer quantity of objects and the question of how to appreciate so many things crowded together. I wondered about the lighting and the reflective surfaces.

I didn’t come to any conclusions, really. The works are beautiful and they made me think. On the other hand, I didn’t come away feeling like my soul was fed in a deep way as I often do when I see amazing art. Maybe that’s what the Chronicle’s art critic meant when he panned the exhibit. He then received a bunch of angry email and wrote a follow-up article.

Maybe what is valuable, then, is the discussion. I’m glad I went to see the works in any case.