Reflecting on Glass: the Dale Chihuly Exhibition in Montreal

I’ve written before about different types of interactive displays at art museums, and the pros and cons of different ways museums get their visitors to think about and react to what’s on display. This past weekend, at the Dale Chihuly exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I had the chance to experience yet another type of art museum interaction: a show where visitors were actually encouraged to take photographs.

It seems that every museum has a different policy on photography in its galleries. Some ban photography altogether, which makes a lot of sense for copyright and preservation reasons. A complete ban also reduces the problem of crowds of snap-happy visitors around the more popular or better-known works. Other museums only allow photography without using flash, and/or photographs for personal use only. As someone who loves art, but who can’t draw all that well, I appreciate these kinds of policies. If I see something that really impresses me, I like to be able to take a photo of it – because then I can look at the photo later, and try to figure out how the artist did what they did.

I’ll admit up front that I am not a huge Dale Chihuly fan. His work is nice to look at, but it doesn’t really reach me emotionally, and for better or worse, he seems to be in that class of artists where the brand sometimes becomes more significant than the art itself. Also, being from the same area where Chihuly is based, I see pieces of his work quite regularly – and after seeing this comedy skit about him I now chuckle whenever I encounter one of his works. Because of all this, seeing the Chihuly exhibit in Montreal was not high on my priority list – but I had some free time, and I figured that since I was there and the exhibit was there, I would check it out. And I was very pleasantly surprised. It was a beautifully staged exhibit, and I came away with a much better appreciation of the technique of glass-blowing, and the possibilities of glasswork as art.

At the admissions gate to the exhibit, there was a sign encouraging visitors not only to take photos, but also to post their photos to the museum’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts. Flash photography was banned, which was a good idea – the galleries were quite dark in order to highlight the intense colours of the glass, and popping flashes would have spoiled that effect. I was curious whether encouraging photography would result in people spending more time shooting photos than actually looking at the art, but my impression was that having the freedom to take photographs made people look at the art more carefully and thoughtfully. And personally, I really enjoyed the very unusual experience of lying on my back in a gallery to take photos of a ceiling.

So…here are some of my own photos of the art, along with photos of people experiencing the exhibit. The exhibit runs until October 27 if you are interested in seeing it for yourself.

People looking at the work "Glass Forest #6".

People looking at the work “Glass Forest #6”.

My view of "Glass Forest #6".

My view of “Glass Forest #6”.

"Boats". This was inspired by boats on the canals in Venice, but I overhead someone saying that it looked like Noah's Ark to them.

“Boats”. This was inspired by boats on the canals in Venice, but I overhead someone saying that it looked like Noah’s Ark to them.

"Persian Colonnade".

“Persian Colonnade”.

"Mille Fiore".

“Mille Fiori”.

People looking at "Mille Fiori" (taken from the colonnade outside).

People looking at “Mille Fiori” (taken from the colonnade outside).

"Chandeliers & Tower".

“Chandeliers & Tower”.

The room with the "Persian Ceiling". Note the giant beanbags in the corners for people to relax on while looking at the ceiling.

The room with the “Persian Ceiling”. Note the giant beanbags in the corners for people to relax on while looking at the ceiling.

"Persian Ceiling".

“Persian Ceiling”.

"Persian Ceiling".

“Persian Ceiling”.

"Persian Ceiling".

“Persian Ceiling”.

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