If you're in San Francisco this month and looking for an awesome art exhibit, I recommend heading over to Golden Gate Park to check out the Dale Chihuly show at the De Young Museum through Sept. 28.
As you walk through the exhibition, be prepared to experience the awesome dynamism Chihuly creates with static glass and vibrant color. Oh, but don't expect to learn anything useful – I would pretend its a minimalist exhibit. Focus on the art itself, don't read the wall placards.
I've reviewed, designed and installed art shows in the past, so I understand techniques for presenting art to the public. As I walked through the Chihuly show, I couldn't help but lament how the curatorial staff chose NOT to fully address and draw in the general public. Is this a case of curatorial license or bad marketing?
I say bad marketing, and I'm not referring to poor advertising or marketing collateral. I'm talking about an opportunity to use a blockbuster exhibition to market the De Young as a leading institution in its field, and the failure to do so.
A few things I would have liked to see:
Interactive analysis of glass as a medium
When people think about art, they don't often think about glass. What other artists have influenced Chihuly (ahem - Venetian glass blowers) and how has this medium changed over time? Add video touch-screens for additional exploration.
Educational video demonstrating how Chihuly creates glass art
Link the dynamism of each Chihuly glass piece to the motions his body enacts in order to create grand masterpieces from such a fragile and volatile medium.
Comprehensive view of Chihuly's life linking paintings to glass work
When you walk through the exhibition, two different walls are covered by Chihuly paintings. In both cases, the surrounding placards hardly elaborate. Even worse, wall placards supposedly providing context for Chihuly's life left me confused - more than one bad analogy to volcanic lava and Persians.
In Art History 1 class at Stanford, we learned to look at the art museum as a scientific institution dedicated to the preservation, analysis and dissection of art. In my opinion, the De Young's Chihuly show didn't do justice to glass as an artform, nor did it serve its scientific and educational purpose for society.
I think the curators missed an incredible marketing opportunity to reach new audiences and get people excited about art, color and glass. The De Young fell short of making a lasting impression on me as a museum - I wanted to see an institution enveloping contemporary modes of communication and transcending art itself.
Despite bad marketing, Chihuly's work remains astounding and the show is worth the $15. If you're hoping for anything more than pretty glass, though, you might be disappointed.