Some folks might have a lesser opinion of Dale Chihuly's work and the vast expanses it has covered since he stepped away from the blowing pipes and transformed from Chihuly the artist to Chihuly the entrepreneur. That's fine; even if Chihuly's glass works were to cover every inch of your neighborhood, it would still be miles above the corporate neo-pop/broken levee that is Romero Britto's stranglehold on Miami-Dade County. At least Chihuly has had two life-altering accidents that forced him into the back seat of his art.
Widely considered the greatest name in glass blowing as an art, Chihuly has enjoyed a steady rise, with thematically inspired pieces in the '70s slowly giving way to larger and more complex abstract sculptures. These large-scale pieces were surely a byproduct of the artist's ability to farm out the minutiae of blowing to a team of employees while he designed the look and assemblage. They had a major impact on public art when his "chandeliers" debuted in Venice in the mid-'90s with the subsequent documentary, Chihuly Over Venice, showing the artist and his team at work.
For a number of years, Chihuly's works have enjoyed a symbiosis with one of the county's true gems, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
Fairchild has been in operation since 1938. Its 83 acres have continually been used to do something local legislators and residents so rarely do: conserve the natural beauty of South Florida. It is equal parts a research facility, museum, lab, community center, and serene garden. Showing that science and the arts go hand-in-hand has also seen the garden transform into living art spaces every December since 2003 with the exhibitions of works by artists such as Mark Dion, Roy Lichtenstein, Fernando Botero, local wunderkind Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, and many others.
Fairchild has a unique landscape that allows impressive sculptures to stand out in its open grassy spaces and smaller pieces to stun amid lush tropical foliage.
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Chihuly is no stranger to the gardens, having in the past struck a careful balance between his organic abstractions and the numerous examples of Floridian biodiversity found throughout the preserve. Some of his works have been large and obvious, while others have been entwined with the landscape and blended seamlessly, part of the aforementioned appeal of the garden for artists. Some works have even remained on permanent display as legacy pieces. For this winter's exhibit and part of Fairchild's established Art Basel destination, Chihuly will unveil never-before-seen works throughout the garden as his most comprehensive use of the space yet.
It's almost as if Fairchild and Chihuly share something in common. With their births separated by only three years, it's easy to see some brotherly self-reflection between the artist and the garden, just as easy as it is to imagine Chihuly -- in the loud colors he usually sports, his pirate-like eye patch protruding defiantly into the wind -- standing around the grounds, soaking in all of that beauty.
"Chihuly at Fairchild," on view December 6, 2014, through May 31, 2015, at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables. General admission is $25 for adults, $18 for seniors 65 and up, $12 for children 6 to 17, and free for Fairchild members and children under 5. Call 305-667-1651 or visit fairchildgarden.org.