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By C. Davis Remignanti

PHOENIX, ARIZONA, 22 DECEMBER 2008 - I'll admit I was less than enthused when I discovered my long-planned trip to the remarkable Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona would coincide with an exhibit of the glass artistry of Dale Chihuly. A little Chihuly goes a long way with me, but let's face it - when does one ever see a little Chihuly? Perhaps best known for his mammoth, curling and unrestrained installations and chandeliers, Chihuly tends to rely on mass in a way that makes his pieces perfect for the resort hotel lobbies in which they are often found. The idea of his work on display among the far more subtle glories of desert botanicals had me experiencing what could could be called pre -traumatic stress disorder.

Dale Chihuly: Cobalt Fiori

So imagine my surprise when I found most of Chihuly: The Nature of Glass quite charming. The first work encountered - as one approaches the entrance to the gardens - is a trio of agave-inspired pieces titled Desert Wildflower Towers done in scintillating tones of chartreuse and spring green and placed in a terraced bed alongside their natural doppelgängers. While certainly an abstract take on the form, this work is Chihuly at his most restrained and naturalistic, and is among the more successful works in this unusual context. Some of his works mimic (or even mock) their living counterparts in a way that is cheeky and humorously nonchalant, while others are more abstractly fauna-form (bizarre cobalt flamingoes) or humanistic (a dignified tribe of lapiz lazuli nomads wandering among the desert sage).

Dale Chihuly: Desert Wildflower Towers

To be certain, there are some misses, most notably the incongruously placed Moon , a graceless blue and white orb composed of individual rondels, plunked clumsily along the desert wildflower trail, perhaps the daintiest of all the garden exhibits. And the work Saffron Tower (which, I'm told by one of the garden's docents, looks much nicer at night when it's lit up) looks, in daylight, like a badly organized phone closet. Indeed, bright sunshine is not a friend to Mr. Chihuly's works, tending to flatten and deaden his matte colors and over emphasize the reflective qualities of his metallics.

But part of the charm of this installation is found in the labyrinthine realities of a botanical garden, which allow many of the works to be spied from the side or the rear, through gaps in the thicket of the garden's specimens. These views, provided by kismet rather than by the artist's hand, are often far more interesting (and contextually appropriate) than the intended viewing angle.

Chihuly: The Nature of Glass
Through May 2009
Desert Botanical Garden
1201 N. Galvin Parkway
Phoenix, Arizona 85008
Tel: (1) 480 941 12 25

C. Davis Remignanti is a writer based in San Diego, California. He last wrote on the sculptor Anish Kapoor for

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