A big Dale Chihuly show in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is closing this week (August 8). As usual, the show drew large numbers (360,000 since the opening on April 10) and mixed critical reviews. "Some experts see his works as overwrought, repetititive, and lacking in intellectual content," runs the summary in this Wall Street Journal story ($).
"Weirdly enervating" is the phrase used in the condescending review by Sebastian Smee in The Boston Globe. He explains:
"I have no quibbles with Chihuly’s factory-style operation, his terrific rate of production, or his immense popularity. None at all. Nor am I bothered by the general absence of ideas in his work: I am all in favor of senseless beauty, and would prefer it any day to most of the brittle, air-filled intellectual meringue that goes by the description of conceptual art.
"It’s the works themselves that I find so off-putting. And again and again I find the problem with them is that they are tasteless.
"They’re tasteless in the way that a 15-course meal might be tasteless, or a garage with a dozen Ferraris, or a wardrobe with hundreds of pairs of shoes. Too many of them derive their raison d’etre from numbers and scale, rather than from any kind of inner purpose. They don’t understand restraint."
One object, a 42-foot high spiky column of 2,342 pieces of lime green glass described as a cross between a poplar tree and a cactus, has become a huge hit — so much so that the MFA has launched a public campaign to purchase it for $1 million. Small donors are texting contributions; five major patrons have chipped in $320,00. Soon "Lime Green Icicle Tower" will be in the permanent collection. It now towers over the MFA's restaurant space and is a magnet for photographers.
Might this be a trend for financially-pressed museums and market-savvy artists?