When museums present new indoor art exhibitions, no detail is ever too small to be left to chance.
Curators pride themselves on ensuring the museum’s environment stays the same. They take great care the gallery’s temperature and lighting is consistent, for the sake of the art itself and the way it is experienced by visitors.
For outdoor exhibitions, however, nature exerts more influence. Changes in lighting and the turning seasons provide a dynamic energy. With an ever-evolving experience, the art can have a very different impact on museum visitors each day, depending on the time of day.
That is one of the most exciting aspects about the new temporary exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Chihuly: In the Gallery and In the Forest.
The installation marks the first time the museum has presented an indoor/outdoor exhibition. It’s an ambitious project at that.
Not only will visitors have the opportunity to see new and iconic works by Dale Chihuly, a modern master of glass-blown artwork, but they will experience these works along the museum’s newly-enhanced North Forest Trail, in the woodlands surrounding Crystal Bridges.
Inside the museum, more than 300 objects are on display – ranging from a two-tiered, clear-blue icicle chandelier that dangles from the gallery bridge ceiling to a fire-orange glass basket series to artist sketches.
Outside, the 10 Chihuly installations promise experiences both unique and surprising, from the matchstick-like glass spikes of Chihuly’s famous Red Reeds to his 5,000-pound Sole d’Oro, made from 1,300 hand blown pieces of glass and created specifically for the Crystal Bridges exhibit.
The exhibition will be open to visitors on Saturday night throughout the summer, with the art illuminated, to present it in a dramatic new light. And as the forest transitions from early summer green to late fall colors – the outdoor exhibit is open until November – visitors will see the art in entirely new contexts.
Chihuly’s art populates half of the North Forest Trail, a 1.1 mile paved path that winds through young Ozark forest in a figure-eight pattern.
Designed to increase accessibility to Crystal Bridges, the trail connects to the museum through a new north entrance to the building itself, via an elevator and a 100-foot elevated bridge.
It’s the next step in reaching the museum’s goal to make sure art is accessible to all – and a reflection of how Crystal Bridges has always emphasized the intersection of art and nature. Not only is the museum putting art in a different setting, it is inviting more pedestrians to come into the museum by creating a seamless transition between indoors and outdoors. If someone has been walking or biking on the trails and they want to enter, they can do that now. Bike racks, for example, will be available at museum entry points. Crystal Bridges wants to embrace the idea of taking art to the people.
While Chihuly is the first artist whose works are being presented along the North Forest Trail, he won’t be the last. Once the exhibition comes down in November, the museum will work on a semi-permanent plan for more artwork along the trail and additional temporary exhibitions in the future.
Chihuly is an innovator when it comes to glass, pioneering irregular, asymmetrical forms. He is always trying something new, pushing himself, pushing the form and trying to discover everything that glass has to offer, both indoors and outdoors. Crystal Bridges embraces that same innovative philosophy.
Chihuly: In the Gallery and In the Forest is a dual exhibition with two different experiences. It gives visitors the chance to see remarkable art and to reflect on the intersection of art, nature and architecture so unique to Crystal Bridges. The hope is that the new entrance and trails also enhance the connection.
Lead photo: Dale Chihuly, Turquoise Reeds and Ozark Fiori, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, installed 2017