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Chihuly at VMFA is for the Whole Family


Reviewed by Karen Schwartzkopf

It’s important that the first work you and your kids see, Red Reeds from internationally renowned artist Dale Chihuly, is outside, springing from the reflecting pool at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

red reedsRed Reeds is a composition of 199 reed-like sculptures, some of the longest hand-blown glass elements Chihuly and his team create. It’s also an invitation to an exhibition inside VMFA that celebrates color, light, energy, and freedom – the natural and organic – in more than 10,000 square feet of temporary exhibition space.

After spending twenty minutes chatting with VMFA’s exhibit coordinator and touching base with a member of Team Chihuly, I decided that here, next to Red Reeds, would be a good place for parents to have a conversation about the profound connection between art and nature, and about the kind of behavior an art museum necessitates.

Chihuly _ 2First, let me say, VMFA is a fantastic place for kids of all ages. I’ve been taking my kids there since they were in preschool, and we have a family membership. But like a place of worship, a library, or a hospital, it calls for a certain sense of respect from those who visit it. The irony for a parent considering Chihuly at VMFA for their kids is truly that the exhibit invites us to “breathe art into life.” As an art lover, I walked through each dazzling display making connections between art and nature and anxious to share them with my kids. As a parent, I had horrific visions of footballs flying through the air and grimy little hands reaching for priceless works of blown-glass.

That said, while several of Chihuly’s masterpieces, Blue Ridge Chandelier and Persian Ceiling among them, are out of reach, my two favorite installations, Laguna Torcello and Northwest Room, are not.

The largest platform installation ever assembled by Chihuly, Laguna is a breathtaking array inspired by the artist’s love of Venice. The pieces are displayed on a 64-ft. long mirrored platform. The room is quite literally filled with color. There are no ropes or barriers to stifle your appreciation of Chihuly’s vision. In Northwest Room, Chihuly weaves together the natural elements of art in a tribute to another of his favorite parts of the world and the home of his studio, the Pacific Northwest. Here, form masterfully supersedes color. A 22-ft. Douglas fir table displays a collection of ethereal glass baskets in neutral tones, inspired by their Native American counterparts, the woven kind, resting on shelves in the same room.

In Macchia Forrest, visitors embark on a journey of color, shape, and form. Inspired by flowers and shells, these large-scale fluted sculptures are lit from above, giving the room an otherworldly feel. Imagine pushing a stroller through a garden on a different planet. November’s Kids Can-Do in RFM is a Macchia-inspired at-home project.

For color, for light, for creative energy – for lots of reasons, I recommend taking your kids to VMFA to experience Chihuly. When my oldest child was three months old, we were at a local mall where they had just installed a carousel for Christmas shoppers to enjoy. It was loud, and lit, and extremely colorful. When my husband held up my baby girl to behold it, her eyes were as wide as saucers. Does she remember that? Of course not. But I’ll never forget it. And for a few seconds, it changed the way she saw the world.

Before you go, do investigate VMFA’s very affordable family membership and enjoy free tickets and previews for special exhibitions (like Chihuly); free parking in the convenient VMFA parking deck; a 10 percent discount in the gift shop and restaurants; and discounted rates on classes, programs, and other ticketed events.

Experience Chihuly at VMFA through February 10, 2013

Free for VMFA members, kids 6 and under, and active-duty military personnel and their immediate families. $20 for adults; $16 for seniors 65+, students with ID, and youth, 7 to 17. Member and non-member visits are timed entrances to monitor crowd flow. Visit  Chihuly ticket stubs can be redeemed for a beverage at your local Starbucks. 

Reviewed by Karen Schwartzkkopf

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.

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