The Liberace of Glass

Here is the scene… I am pushing my Mother-in-Law in her wheelchair, it is the first really hot day of the year, surprisingly and thankfully late July, Rebecca; my partner, collaborator, comrade artist,  is walking next to us carrying our increasingly tepid water. We are at the Denver Botanical Gardens, lumped together with

tourists, staff, bridesmaids, security guards, and swallowtail butterflies in this stationary zoo of verdure to see the latest dazzling erudition of extrudious flamboyancy:  Three football fields of vitrum by the Liberace of Glass, Dale Chihuly.

As I was meandering about in the swelter of heat, careful not to push the wheelchair too close to the pools and ponds or run into peoples ankles, It came to me that there was something about the experience that reminded me of the 4th of July.  At first I could not place it, It was not night, nobody was sitting on blankets, sadly there was no beer or wine.  But then I realized everyone was Oooohhhing and Aaaahhhing!  Just as if they were watching sparkly explosions in the firmament.  Instead of giant firecrackers in the sky we were witness to solidified fireworks stuck in the ground.   At first I too was caught up in this preverbal monosyllabic Pavlovian group experience.

But then, as if a shard of fandango pink glass had pierced my neocortex, I apprehended that there really is not that much more to say about these vitreous things.  If prettiness was the only metric in judging these thingamabobs then Mr. Chihuly would be The Greatest Thingamabobists in the world.  I quickly, in spite of the allied artistically challenged thrombosis of the collective, pulled myself out of this lustrous trap and back to Aesthetic Reality.  Back to remembering that Art encompasses more than mono-guttural platitudes.

But wait.  There is more to say and I’ll give it to you straight up in a dirty tumbler: There is nothing much except air below the surface of these swirly angular pizazzles made by a team of warehoused sweating underpaid glassmiths.  At the end of the day, it remains, we are left with voluminous storehouses of… well, glass ornaments.  A cheap attraction really; like using puppies, kittens, or babies to market a Las Vegas casino.

We continued onward, hurrying through sunny areas and congregating with our dehydrating comrades in the precious splashes of shade sipping our hot water.  While I’m fantasizing about cooler liquid libations I am distracted by something else.  A peripherally annoying sensation began nagging me like the little rivulets of sweat running down the middle of my back, perfectly coursing between skin and shirt.  The torment continued as I pushed mother-in-law past the floating canoe stacked high with periwinkle and ultramarine blue glass globes.

Then it came to me.  The Not-Artness!  This is what I had to concentrate on.  Inside this botanical garden of earthly delights we were walking through an aesthetically cleansed xeriscape.  These objects which are referred to, promoted, and marketed as “Art” are, in reality, simply arid facsimiles of Art.  A glasso-techno carnival made for a world smothering in repetition and bling.

Surrounded by the lush and fecund greenery, the contrast leapt out at me.  These doodads were barren. Stark. Sterile.  While the Liberace of Glass supplies plethoras of platitudes his wares do not impart insights into the deeper wells of our being.  They supply no awarenesses of meaning.  They convey no comments on life/living/struggle/death.  They are empty of statements about self or other.  These items have a tragic lack of ideas beyond themselves.  They possess no satire, no allegory, no mythos, no honest juxtapositions, no heightened intellectual nor emotional observations.  No depth of analysis or synthesis.  No serious contextual possibilities.  A perfect shiny mirroring of Not-Artness.

Rebecca wrote to me a few days later about this event.  In a flurry of stream of consciousness: “Memorable art communicates deep human realities, psychologies, emotions, intellectual power, social depravity and absurdity of the human condition. Art risks to be dangerous, and when profound serves to shatter and elevate. Powerful art creates an urgency within…”

I have to admit, that day I did have an urge.  Like getting close to the edge of a cliff or the top of a tall building.  You know that spooky urge to jump?  Being around all that glass, I had a crazy urge to elevate and shatter (if you know what I mean!)

I lived in Seattle, in the 80s and 90s.  Chihuly’s were as plentiful as bumbershoots.  People were drunk on his glass.  For Chihuly I would say; “Too Much of a Glass Thing is Wonderful”.  The Liberace of Glass had a gold mine.  People went crazy for these whatchamacallits; like crows in a rhinestone factory.  Pretty shiny things were everywhere.

I am curious about his appeal.   But it is not surprising in a world where fashion and art have been fused together by a system which devalues and misunderstands the later and glorifies the former.  But it is art for fashions sake and this is where Chihuly glitters like cubic zirconia.

He couldn’t go wrong in the corporate salon boutique art culture he came of age inside of.  How could he?  Glass excels at being beautiful.  And many people have a deficit of loveliness in their lives.  I am not talking about the Beauty of an O’Keeffe or a Frankenthaller.  Nor the historical Beauty of pathos and restoration as in The Dinner Party or Guernica.  And definitely not the Beauty of Nature; the authentic Beauty of  flowers, a forest, an ocean, a mountain.  These glass devices are tawdry-esque beauty.  There is nothing below the surface of these swirly gleaming  facades. We are left with only congealed polytechnic’s.  They ask nothing of us as a viewer.  Just an ooohhh and an aaahhh and then off to the gift shop.

The corniness becomes overwhelming.  The more I saw, the more averse I became to the redundancies of colors, shapes, and placement.  I am not sure if it was the heat or the onset of hyelophobia, (Yes, I just looked it up… the fear of glass.), that drove us out.

Though, honestly, I think it was the imminence of happy hour that was motivating us. By then;  our water was “not”, the staff tired, security disappointed, the tourists were off to the Cheese Factory, the bridesmaids a little tipsy, and the butterflies still unanimously choosing flowers over glass.

All in all, I knew what to expect, I had not set the bar too high, so I was not all that disappointed.  My mother-in-law did not much care for the heat, loved  the idea of a glass of wine more then the whine of glass permeating those gardens.   She of course was worried that pushing her around was “too much” for me.  (Nothing like pulling her in her wheelchair backwards across a beach on the Caribbean, but thats for another entry…)

Sadly, the glassy  whatsits only had the semblance of fireworks.  There were no whooshing of rising  skyrockets,  no booms and no smell of gunpowder,  just raunchy distorted marbles strewn amongst the elegant flora.

We need Art to communicate our shared psychologies and unique experiences.   We need art to move with and through the dangers and risks of our human realities. Art is the antidote to, the Fetishes of Vogue, “prettiness for prettiness sake”;.  Art reminds us how to resist the wastelands of  non-artness.

I do like glass.  There is a little raven in all of us.  Bright and glossy trinkets draw us in.  I always feel a bit taken advantage with The Liberace of Glass.  I feel coerced into “prettyville”.   Leveraged in to a beauteous binge.  “You must, Oh and Ah”  “You must, look and like”.   Though what remains is only costly eye candy, and that my friends is what the “King of Bling” is utterly superb at supplying.

As Always,

The Planetary Ambassador for Creativity

Patrick Williams

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