ROAD TRIP! Liberace would have loved this exhibition of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures
Artful Musing

ROAD TRIP! Liberace would have loved this exhibition of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures

Nothing is tastier than a smooth, rich Belgian chocolate. But eat an entire box and the stomach rebels — you may never want to eat Belgian chocolates again.

So it is with the glass sculptures of American artist Dale Chihuly that currently fill a good portion of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. A visit to the exhibition, Dale Chihuly: Utterly Breathtaking, is akin to eating, not just a box of chocolates, but the entire contents of a candy store.

Turquoise Reeds. Dale Chihuly. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Photo Scott M. Leen

The last time a museum left me with so much saccharine-induced indigestion, it was the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas. Rhinestone-coated Cadillacs, pianos, and clothes tend to do that to me. (It’s now closed, but you can take a virtual tour, should you desire, here.) So do oversized Chihuly chandeliers that look like the snake-filled head of Medusa.

The ground floor gift shop at the Montreal museum is selling small Chihuly glass sculptures you can hold in your hand. They run up to $9,400 a piece. They are perfectly lovely and, if I had $9,400 to spare, I might consider buying one.

But all is different upstairs, where large exhibition galleries are filled with oversized glass-blown plants, balls, chandeliers, and vaguely organic shapes rarely seen outside science fiction horror movies or the homes of the nouveau riche.

As you approach the beginning of the exhibition, dozens of two-metre tall turquoise glass reeds attached to logs bar the way. Actually, I liked this installation called, appropriately enough, Turquoise Reeds, even though it seemed over the top. Little could I guess what would be next.

In fact, it was The Persian Ceiling, a series of brightly coloured, variously shaped, circles of glass installed on the ceiling. Mattresses were placed on the floor so visitors could lie down and stare up at the confection. And many visitors did just that or perhaps they were feeling faint after peeking at the next room.

Persian Ceiling (detail). Dale Chihuly, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Photo Scott M. Leen

Ruby Pineapple Chandelier hangs in the next room. That is a giant, non-functional chandelier composed of scores of red translucent balls, with the rough, scored skin of pineapples. It is garish to the extreme. And it is a remake Chihuly did just for the Montreal show to replace an identical one he made in France in 1997. The original ruby chandelier now lies at the bottom of the Atlantic, the victim of a maritime disaster. I think we are supposed to be grateful the ruby chandelier was resurrected from the dead.

I dare not describe any of the other rooms. Let’s just say nothing exceeds like excess.

Now, I must admit that I am probably in the minority here. After only a few weeks, 80,000 people had visited the exhibition. The place was packed the mid-week afternoon when I visited.

Most of the visitors looked like they crochet doilies in their spare time and they seemed pleased as punch with the exhibition. This is the demographic that has free time on a Tuesday afternoon and is willing to spend that time, plus $22.50 in admission, at a museum. Let’s hope the museum coffers are getting filled so some real art exhibitions can be held in the future.

Breathtaking runs until Oct. 20 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest.