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Chihuly and Alfonso: A collaboration made in art heaven

On 01, Aug 2010 | 4 Comments | In Et cetera | By man-admin

Riddle me this . . . .

What do you get if you give a blank, 10,000 square foot concrete shell of a building to one of the world’s most acclaimed glass artists and an international, award-winning architect?
You get the visually stunning, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Several years ago, the Morean commissioned the Cuban-born architect Alberto Alfonso, AIA, to work directly with Chilhuly in creating 12 unique environments that would take the artist’s work to another level of experience for the viewer. It was a collaboration made in art heaven. (Please don’t forget that by clicking on any image you will see an enlarged version)

Venetians, 2010
Photo by Scott M. Leen
Venetians (detail)
Photo by Scott M. Leen
Alberto Alfonso: “Early in the design process, Dale and I discovered a shared affinity for the work of Italian architect and glass artist Carlo Scarpa. This became a common thread for the materiality and presentation strategies which drove the richness of a palette that includes western red cedar, Venetian plaster and raw steel.”
Alfonso used precious woods from the South in the exhibit as well. The shelving that The Venetians rest on is made from one-hundred-year-old heart of pine beams salvaged from the Suwanee River.
Blue Neon Tumble Weed, 2010
5 x 5 x 8′
Photo by Terry Rishel

Each of the 12 individual environments, or “dreams”, was first realized in delicate watercolors painted by Alfonso.

Mille Fiori,painting by Alberto Alfonso
These paintings were then brought to life. In this case, Chihuly’s works are displayed reverentially in a “chapel” consisting of an oval, reflective plinth and a Romanesque “ceiling” of warm, wooden beams.
Mille Fiori, 2010
10 1/2 x 33 1/2 x 10 1/2 ‘
Photo by Al Hurley
Mille Fiori, 2010
10 1/2 x 33 1/2 x 10 1/2 ‘
Photo by Al Hurley
We find a lovely homage to the centuries of art glass-making in Venice and Murano in Alfonso’s Carnevale-inspired “dream” for Float Boat.
Float Boat, 2010
3 x 4 1/2 x 12′
Photo by Scott M. Leen

This is no static, formal exhibit experience where one advances in a visual lock-step from one work to the next. Alfonso leads the viewer on to the next environment through a series of surprise apertures and anticipatory views like this one.

Portal into Float Boat  Photo Al Hurley

We spoke with one gallery-goer who described the experience like this: “You are in the deep portal hallway and there is a sliver of a window looking into the Float Boat gallery. It frames the installation like a Vermeer still life. There is no glass on the window, so you feel the depth into the next gallery. And you come across it as a surprise. Absolutely lovely.”
The sensuous forms of the Chandelier Room recalls an Alvar Aalto vase turned upside down.
Chandelier Room, 2010
Photo by Scott M. Leen
There are few boundaries between these fragile works and the viewer. The homage to Venice continues throughout the exhibit with the use of a “canal system” of recessed steel troughs that softly separate viewer from art.
Chilhuly: “The opening of the Chihuly Collection is truly one of the proudest moments of my career. The Collection would not be the spectacular space that it is without the hard work, vision and dedication of my dear friend and architect Alberto Alfonso who transformed the space into a spectacular architectural environment to showcase my work.”
Sea Forms, 2010 

Persian Ceiling (detail), 2010
To see more photos and get a first-hand review from blogger Paul Anater, click here:
Enjoy — Nancie

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  1. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    I am officially jealous, Paul.

  2. Paul Anater

    Thanks for the shout out Nancie. This museum is stunning in every sense of the word. What a great happenstance that it's five blocks form home!

  3. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    I am sorry to say I haven't seen it in person. Maybe in the fall sometime, Maureen.

  4. Maureen

    Magnificent. The lighting must be spectacular. Have you seen in person?

    Float Boat is perhaps my favorite. I'm drawn to the metaphor.

    I love Alfonso's watercolors.

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