UW Alumnus Provides Touch of Glass for Kohl Center

December 15, 1997

Sample of Kohl Center sculpture
Claire Garoutte

Dale Chilhuly
Claire Garoutte

Dale Chihuly this month will finish "The Mendota Wall," above, a blown-glass installation for the Kohl Center.

Visit Chihuly’s Web site!

Smooth as glass, clear as glass, shiny as a piece of glass. How about one more?

Shatters like glass.

Not to mix metaphors so carelessly, but glass does seems to be a magnet for clichés.

And that can present problems if you are an artist and glass is your medium.

Seattle glass master Dale Chihuly, who earned an MFA from UW–Madison in 1967, does not concern himself much with the usual smooth-clear-shiny-brittle treatments of his chosen material. Instead, he prefers to play up its intrinsic beauty, and celebrate the relationship between his creations and their environments.

And this week, the world’s largest example of his work, “The Mendota Wall,” will be going up inside the about-to-be-completed Kohl Center. The work, commissioned by the Wisconsin Arts Board’s Percent for Art program, is comprised of more than 1,000 hand-blown pieces of vibrantly hued glass, forming the 120-foot-long installation.

“The Mendota Wall” will receive its official unveiling in January. Meanwhile, Parks Anderson, who will lead the team of Chihuly associates in Madison next week, says, “The entire team is looking forward to making this installation a reality.”

Chris Manke, Percent for Art’s coordinator, says Chihuly had the most creative solution for the Kohl Center space: tendrilled, coiled glass sculptures along the curved wall in the Kohl Center’s main entrance.

“A large glass sculpture for this space highlights the UW as the home of studio glass as an art form,” says Manke. UW–Madison’s studio art glass efforts were begun in the late 1950s under Harvey Littleton, former professor of art.

Chihuly’s works currently form part of some 40 permanent collections around the world, including collections at the White House, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Japan’s National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, the Louve and many more. In addition, the Madison Art Center, Milwaukee Museum of Art and UW–Madison’s Elvehjem Museum of Art each have their own Chihuly pieces.

“The Mendota Wall,” however, will represent a unique moment in the artist’s career, according to Anderson.

“In addition to its being his largest installation, ‘Wall’ is noteworthy because of Dale’s extraordinary use of color in it,” Anderson says.

For more information on the work, contact George Tzougros, director of the Wisconsin Arts Board, at 267-2006. For details about general Kohl Center activities, contact the center’s hotline, 263-KOHL.