Saturday, January 31, 2015


Oklahoma City has a B-grade art museum anchored by an A+ Dale Chihuly collection. I don't know what it is about this area of the country and Chihuly (who hails from Washington State), but on this week-long trip we saw Chihuly's work in each of the three states we visited: The Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas; the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in Oklahoma; and the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas.

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA for short) has the most stunning Chihuly piece I have seen to date: the 55-foot-tall Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick Memorial Tower, a tribute to one of the founders of the museum.   It is impossible to get the whole thing in a single photo, so I did my best to put two pictures together here to give an idea of its grandiosity:

It fills the three-story atrium at the front of the museum, capitalizing on the light that streams in through the front windows. Even if the day is cloudy and gray, as it was when we were there, the tower has a peculiar luminosity all its own.
There are 2,100 pieces of individually blown glass weighing 9,500 pounds attached to a seven-piece steel armature that weighs 10,500 pounds--a total of 20,000 pounds or ten tons. Although it looks relatively narrow in these photos, the width is actually 7 feet 6 inches, which gives you an idea of the proportional height.
It took seven days to install the armature, and then just seven more days to install the glass, starting at the top and working down. It is hand-cleaned about once a year, and it takes about nine hours to do the cleaning.


In addition to the tower, the OKCMOA has one of the largest collections of Dale Chihuly art in the world. And did I say it is in Oklahoma?  Call me a snob, but I would not have expected that. We decided to save the best for last and headed first towards the special exhibit of contemporary Chinese art.

It was a hit-and-miss exhibit for me, but one of my favorite pieces was this painting by Liang Yuanwei that subtly mimics the floral patterns of Chinese silk embroidery.
The next two pieces are collaborative efforts between artists and their parents to create sculptures from objects used in their every day lives, such as this loom:
. . . and this light fixture made from plates:

This Chinese-style tapestry using primarily Western art and history, including the head of Friedrich Nietzsche, the head of Medusa, and political cartoons from the nineteenth century, is meant to challenge stereotypes of Chinese art:

The rest of the museum covers a period of five centuries, with focus on American and European art from the 19th through 21st centuries. There were a few gems, including this Henry Moore work entitled Bronze Head (1963),
I can really relate to this. Finally, a possible explanation for my absent-mindedness.

In the realm of sculpted heads, it is hard to come up with something fresh, but I think Jo Davidson did in this bust of Woodrow Wilson, sculpted two years after Wilson's death. Although carved in marble, the skin looks pliable, and yet the artist also manages to convey Wilson's strength and intellect.

Every museum needs a Georgia O'Keefe. This calla lily was painted in 1927.
Likewise, every respectable museum needs a portrait of George Washington (1779), preferably painted by Charles Wilson Peale:

. . . and a romantic Thomas Moran painting such as Falls at Toltec Gorge (1913):

Here's something different. I've always thought of Tiffany in connection with glass (as in the stained glass windows at nearby St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral), so I was surprised to come upon this work by Louis Comfort Tiffany, who apparently was a painter before he began his work with glass. This Arab Street Scene was painted in 1870, five years before he became interested in glass-making:

Those are all great artworks, but they are the usual types found in any decent art museum. However, as previously mentioned, what really sets OKCMOA apart is its Dale Chihuly collection. How these wonderful pieces ended up there is a great story.

In 2002, to celebrate the opening of its new facility, OKCMOA commissioned the aforementioned 55-foot-tall tower of swirling glass. In addition, the museum brought in a large collection of other works by Chihuly for a temporary show. The exhibit was so popular with patrons that the museum purchased the entire show with the help of over 500 donors, and in 2004 it became a permanent part of OKCMOA's collection. (Note: Mr. Chihuly's then girlfriend and now wife had roots in Oklahoma City, which may have helped with negotiations.)

My favorite installation is the hallway topped by the Oklahoma Persian Ceiling (2002). Walking down this 8-foot-wide and 40-foot-long corridor is like being in the most exotic, magical underwater scene you can imagine. Light streams through more than 500 vividly colored glass pieces and shines on the walls and floors, and although they are fixed, there is a sense of movement created by the layering and the undulating lines within and around the shapes.
Photo from here

I've seen the Chihuly ceiling in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, and it is stunning, but the intimacy of this ceiling makes it unique.
Oklahoma Persian Ceiling, 2002
The Persian Ceiling hallway connects two rooms full of Dale Chihuly's work:

Like Tiffany, Chihuly has also dabbled in painting. Nuutajarvi Drawing, 1995

I would love to know what the inspiration for these two boats was. One is full of other-worldly sea plants, and the other holds a hundred or more perfect spheres, each a different size and design.
Ikebana Boat, 2002
Float Boat

Creative genius at its best.


  1. I'm coming to love the work of Chihuly through these posts. Can you imagine the Memorial Tower on a sunny day? Amazing, although I'm less impressed with his paintings.

  2. The OKCMOA was pretty dull for me - but the Chihuly glass was spectacular. I particularly liked the two boats, kind of reminded me of the boats the boats across the River Styx in Hades, and the ceiling which really did feel like being under water.

  3. We have long admired the Chihuly work at the Bellagio here in Vegas and saw his work at the Atlantis Hotel years ago. We were surprised to see a Chihuly glass entry at the Victorua and Albert Museum in London last week,

    1. I just looked up the Victoria and Albert Chihuly piece. WOW.