Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ann Arbor Art Fair Swelters and Chihuly's Still Hot

"Knick nak patty wack give some crap a home." So says the first post on the news site reporting on the opening day of the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair.
American Crafts is the Rodney Dangerfield of the art field. That's for sure. Artisans doing the summer circuit this year are needing the dough. And finding themselves still on the street, mostly and not in any museums even after 30 year careers. Numbers of craftsmen and the economic slump are to blame for that more than the quality of the work. Not much thanks is due to the promoters of American Craft that have promised for decades to elevate the arts and artisans in America. Too many of them are still on the street, we think.
But for the top of the heap it looks just as bumpy. Last week the blockbuster Chihuly show in SF titled "Chihuly at the de Young", was completely slammed by the San Francisco Chronicle's
art critic Kenneth Baker. Among other unfavorable comments he finally slams the great showman, whose show is drawing huge crowds by the way, saying "The history of art is a history of ideas, not just valuable property. Chihuly has no place in it."
Regardless of this position, people are drawn to the installations of art glass by Dale Chihuly where ever they are put on display. You can't stop a steamroller with a high brow opinion. And Chihuly is the greatest American showman since P.T. Barnum.
For years the elite have cow towed to Mr. Chihuly despite his obvious overblown ego and gaudy over the top works. For every person who finds his glass works too flashy, even cheap looking, there are a hundred who are awed.
Nourot Studio has an informed opinion about Mr. Chihuly. In the fall of 1971 Micheal Nourot was one of 16 "students" chosen to attend the first Pilchuck Glass School. The rub was there WAS no glass studio, nor any shelter for the whole group. The girls who had nowhere to plug in their hair dryers, took off downhill to a motel. Staying were Micheal and two others who had to go it mostly alone. Dale was busy schmoozing the patron of the school at her place and the other founding teacher, Jamie Carpenter, from Rhode Island School of Design, had gone back East. Fall turned to winter and Micheal stayed on.
But you don't spit into the wind and you don't pull the mask off the ol' lone ranger. Smithsonian's Director and the glass art historian William Warmus, to name two, stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Chihuly as he climbed the art world ladder in the 80's and 90's.
Studio glass artists who actually made their own work and sold it on a much smaller scale were always both in awe and sick to death of
Chihuly and his latest exploits.
Now all that is water under the bridge.
Pilchuck is a great place and will always be associated with Dale Chihuly. This will be his legacy. That and the strong popularity of his works will keep him at the top of the art glass world, if not the art world, long after we are all gone.
He's doing what he always wanted to do: a
summer calendar of shows that is like a rock tour and he's at the top of his connections game. Must be fun, Dale. Way to go.

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