It might seem overkill for a museum to have two big exhibits by the same artist in six months. But then, Dale Chihuly — or at least his glass art — is all about overkill, exploding with color and form and size. And there’s no doubt that for Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, following his “Drawings” show with one of his “Venetians” (from the George Stroemple collection) is a sure-fire way to pull visitors away from that other Chihuly museum in Seattle.
To cap it off, the museum is hosting a free Italian-themed party on the piazza outside Saturday, offering wine tasting, gelato, a circus and more to celebrate the cultural exuberance that first inspired the glass artist to create those cherub-covered sculptures.
Whatever the reason for yet another Chihuly show, “Venetians” is laid out as palatially as you can get in a prosaic museum gallery. Pale peachy walls set off the shimmering gold of the enormous vessels, which are placed rhythmically in twos and threes between the equally large-scale “drawings” (technically paintings, which Chihuly has used partly to communicate his visions with the team that actually makes his glass work). The effect is similar to long, golden-lit galleries in Venetian palaces, and it’s an elegance that goes well with the sheer baroque extravagance of the works themselves.
The most recent works are at the front: big vessels in pale blue or lavender and covered with chubby golden putti (cherubs) having all kinds of adventures: sliding down a dragon’s tummy, cavorting over an oversized hand, kissing birds in the mushroomy protuberances of a tree trunk. Between them, huge Ebeltoft drawings burst like fireworks with creamy pink, rust or olive paint sparks flying.
Earlier “Venetians,” from just after Chihuly’s visit to Venice in 1988 and his ensuing collaboration with Venetian glass master Lino Tagliapietra, get more solid colors (whirlwinds of black and green, charcoal with raspberry thorns) and shapes, like the “Golden Putti Venetian with Dragon,” an inverted pear tilting insouciantly on three scaly tails.
Chihuly’s playfulness in these early years is fun verging on ridiculous. In a swirl of emerald leaves, a tiny white swan quacks at an oversized baby putti; in “Blue Seascape Venetian,” putti ride a whirlpool merry-go-round of white seashells and golden dolphins. Putti dive down orange flames, pick apart burgundy leaves, cuddle golden swans or stroke lyres while riding pale centaurs. It’s a putti party, unrestrainedly baroque yet retaining Chihuly’s other influence — Art Deco — in the subtle curve of vessel lips or minimalist pastel palettes.
At the back of the gallery, the clusters of smaller Venetians (the “Piccolos”) seem somehow more clunky, with childish lines and simplicity reminiscent of the “Kids Design Glass” works in the museum’s rear corridor. There’s a rather odd, oversize color-matching panel, which would be slightly more informative replaced with information about Stroemple and his extensive collection of Northwest studio glass.
Saturday’s party includes hands-on craft making of Venetian masks, origami gondolas and gondolier hats (10:30 a.m.-6 p.m.), a magic show, face painting, balloon art and glitter tattoos (11 a.m.-3 p.m.); olive oil and balsamic vinegar tastings (11 a.m.-8 p.m.); wine tasting (noon-7 p.m.); a photo booth with Vespas and gondola (11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.); ballet performances (12:30-1 p.m.) and lessons (1:15-1:45 p.m.); circus performers (2-4 p.m.); gelato (2-5 p.m.); a “Pizza Olympics” contest (3-7 p.m.); tango dancing (4-7 p.m.) and alt-rock band Rags and Ribbons (7:15-8:15 p.m.). A beer and wine garden and Italian food is available for purchase, and inside, the galleries will be open late (10 a.m.-9 p.m.) with a brunch table in the morning, Chihuly films and more.
IF YOU GO
What: “Chihuly’s Venetians: The George R. Stroemple Collection.”
Where: Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 4.
Admission: $15 general; $13 AAA members; $12 senior, student and military; $5 ages 6-12 and free for 5 and younger.
Also: Party on the Piazza Italian festival, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday (free outside, admission applies for exhibition and indoor activities).
Information: 866-4-MUSEUM, museumofglass.org.