ARTS

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April 9, 2002

A Garden of Glass

Many of the most memorable aesthetic experiences are followed by the thought, "Dude! This would be cool on [insert psychotropic substance of choice]!" I felt that way when watching The Matrix. I felt that way once while sitting in Rockefeller Chapel alone. I'm not sure whether the capacity to inspire the use of psychedelics indicates good art, but it at least indicates fun art, in my opinion.

Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass would be cool on psychedelics. It was sort of an Alice In Wonderland/weird alien planet sort of aesthetic. This was due to the location of the installation: the Garfield Conservatory. The Garfield Conservatory is apparently one of the largest conservatories in the nation. I always thought conservatories were kinda like music schools. But I guess they're also big greenhouses. The Garfield Conservatory is a big greenhouse. It looks like something out of the 1893 World's Fair that they forgot to take down. But in reality, it was built in 1896. It's full of all sorts of plant life that's cool-looking. One minute you feel like you're in the rainforest, the next you feel like you're in the desert with all sorts of weird-looking cacti. It's quite soothing inside. The air is clean and the warmth of the conservatory is comforting.

Dale Chihuly is an artist who makes sculptures out of blown glass. They all sort of look like weird alien plants, which is precisely why he chose the Garfield Conservatory for his installation. To be honest, I think a lot of his work looks like stuff you could buy for $1500 at a yuppie crafts store in Soho. But in this context it works. His brightly colored pieces complement the plant life and augment the atmosphere of the conservatory. You feel like you've crash landed on some weird planet. The whole experience is surreal, with or without psychedelics.

But , the greatest thing about Chihuly in the Park is that it's genuinely public art. It's free to get into the conservatory, even though there is a suggested donation. The art itself is quite accessible; it's rather simple, and anyone can understand it. This isn't to say that it's necessarily naïve art, but Chihuly's target audience here is certainly the general public and not the art world. The Disney-Worldesque atmosphere created here is certainly intentional.

I highly recommend seeing Chihuly in the Park. It's in a neighborhood you've probably never been to and is in an amazing and historic building. Even if you don't make it out to see the exhibit, which has just been extended to September 8 (so really you have no excuse not to go), you should try to make a point to visit the Garfield Conservatory and Garfield Park as well. You can get there by taking the Green Line to the Central Park Drive station. The conservatory is right there, and you can't miss it. It's located at 300 N. Central Park Ave.