Dale Chihuly’s glasswork has appeared in some of the most fabulous venues around the globe for five decades, yet I’d never registered its existence until recently. I think that I must have slowly absorbed its impact and beauty while reading various garden blog posts about his work (e.g. from FlowerAlley). Fortunately for me, there is currently a wonderful display to bring me up-to-date at The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. So this post covers my visit last week to see the gardens and ‘Chihuly: Reflections on Nature‘. The exhibition finishes on 27th October, 2019, so I just made it in time!!
Happily, I chose the only dry day of the week and the stormy sky backdrops and sunny intervals worked some magic on the installations. For instance, look at these sparkles:
The medusa-like ‘Summer Sun’ installation stands lakeside, at the edge of the Palm House parterre and dazzles, with or without direct sunlight. It is a well-travelled exhibit and was previously in London (Berkley Square) in 2014.
With its vibrance and size (5.5m, consisting of 1,573 hand-blown glass elements weighing in at 2,000kg) Summer Sun sits comfortably in front of the ornate Palm House (built in 1844 by Richard Turner) adding a little nuclear fizz to the scene as dusk falls.
Whilst many of the installations convey a lot of movement through their dynamic twisting shapes, there are several much more rigid (but no less organic) affairs on display. These are typically labelled in the guide as ‘* Reeds’ and I can see how they would work successfully in a many locations. My favourite of these Reeds was ‘Neodymium Reeds and Turquoise Marlins’ (Marlins not shown below, being off to the sides):
Neodymium Reeds was in the lovely, recessed Mediterranean garden that climbs up to King William’s Temple. It feels like this little dell should be peaceful and contemplative, but, as pointed out by all the upright structures, overhead the planes roar in takeoff every few minutes.
Elsewhere, appropriately overlooked by the Great Pagoda and in the shade of the Japanese Gateway, ‘Niijima Floats’ (created in 1991 and inspired by Japanese fishing boats) appear to hover just above the gravel of the rock garden. These vibrant marbles feel planetary, with sufficient gravity to bulge slightly about their waistlines like giant pumpkins. They are some of the largest glass spheres ever blown (~1m in diameter)
Chihuly’s ‘Garden Cycle’ began in 2001 and built on his considerable interest in glasshouses, so it is no surprise that, for me, his most stunning works at Kew are displayed inside the glasshouses. The newly restored Victorian Temperate House is the stage for an incredibly diverse set of free standing exhibits that are sunk so deeply into their surroundings that I swear that some of them have truly rooted and are growing.
One of the joys of the Kew Glasshouses are their beautiful open upper walkways and these are the places to get a sense of scale and immersion in the plants and palms growing there.
The upper walkway in the Temperate House certainly allows the best views of many partially eclipsed installations that are dotted around the vegetation at ground level.
But best of all is the view across the restored glasshouse itself, together with a new piece commissioned to grace this fantastic structure – a 9m drop of blue ‘Persians’:
OK, so I’ve left my absolute favourite till last. It’s a piece displayed in the Waterlily House, a house so humid that my camera steamed up every I tried to use it (adding a certain/literal atmosphere to the shots). It is the sculpture called ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’. I am told that at the beginning of the 2019 Chihuly Kew season there were lengthy queues to get into this glasshouse. Well, it is still busy in there, but the display is still also ethereal and magical: