Chihuly and Macaulay at the RISD Museum

CathedralThe Chace Center officially opens today, so head down to the RISD Museum to escape the drizzle and check out the fancy new galleries.

I’ve always been partial to the discreet Benefit Street museum entrances, but the new entry on South Main is a lot nicer-looking than I’d expected.  My favorite thing about the museum, the little set of stairs on the side of the building, has become a more welcoming thoroughfare; there’s a gallery space in the museum now for student work; and RISDWorks has morphed into a real museum store (and now, thankfully, seems to be about 75% less relient on selling Family Guy merchandise.)

There are two big shows coinciding with the opening.  I’ve never found influential glass artist Dale Chihuly particularly interesting, but since he went to RISD and taught there for two decades and more or less defined contemporary glass art, it makes sense for RISD to kick off the Chace Center with an exhibition of his work.

The show contains a few pieces worth checking out, though the most exciting part is the 4200 square foot space itself.  In addition to grids of flower drawings and ostentatious vases with fancy barnacle things coming off them, there’s Neodymium Reeds, a series of delicate lavender pieces suspended over a pile of birch logs.  I also liked Neon Forest 4, which hearkens back to work Chihuly did at RISD back in the early seventies.  Those two pieces play with nature in a more interesting way than the garish chandeliers and ersatz baskets that comprise a lot of the artist’s work.  Also worth seeing is the Persian Ceiling, which contains four to five hundred smaller pieces, presented in a way that focuses attention on the light that passes through the glass rather than the objects themselves.  Light’s a major part of any glass show, obviously, though walking through the dark gallery the hyper-focused lighting design felt oddly like shopping at Hollister.

The David Macaulay show in the older building is a lot more exciting.  The children’s book illustrator and former RISD professor became famous in 1971 with Cathedral, following it up Pyramid, Castle, and The Way Things Work, among others.  (Side note: The drawing of the submarine in The Way Things Work was one of my favorite things as a child.  I could stare at it for hours.)  In 2003, at the height of America’s anti-Arab paranoia, he published Mosque, and next month he’ll release The Way We Work, a book about the human body that features, among other things, the story of the digestive tract illustrated with angels.

The exhibit shows storyboards, illustrations, the entirety of his experimental, Caldecott-winning Black and White, and a lot of supplementary information.  (For instance, did you know that Macaulay’s original idea for Cathedral was a story about a beauty pageant for gargoyles?)  My only gripe with the show is that it focuses its greatest energy on Ship, which is his least interesting book.  Still, in order to write it Macaulay spent time in Brazil, learned how to scuba dive, and did enormous amounts of research, best illustrated in the show by a letter from a Texan about the different meanings of the word fatback.

The museum’s free and open to everyone today.

2 thoughts on “Chihuly and Macaulay at the RISD Museum”

  1. My favorite Macauly books as a child were Motel of the Mysteries, which was about future archeologists excavating a contemporary American motel and interpreting everything wrong, and the one that I can’t remember the name of that was a bunch of unrelated sketches, a bunch of which were about how much he hates vinyl siding (there was one called “protecting the future” which was of the moon’s surface covered in vinyl siding, and one called “vinylcide” which was a human body covered in it, which cracked me up in sixth grade and still kind of does), and I remember one was called either “Locating the Vanishing Point” or “Measuring the Vanishing Point” which had a road disappearing off into the distance, except it wasn’t the distance, because there were people standing at the vanishing point investigating it. That dude is awesome. I wonder if there are still any of his books hanging around my parents’ house.

  2. Annie Messier

    I loved the Macauly show, too! (Agree about “Ship,” though; would have liked to see more of the other books instead.) I thought Bruce Chao’s piece, “Phantom Limb,” was fantastic enough for a mention. Keep your head aimed up as you exit Chihuly’s space and briefly into his students’ before wandering toward Macauly and the old museum. The two pieces on the ceiling work in conjunction with the photograph on the wall for the full effect.
    Sounds like Chace got a decent-sized crowd today, too. They expected 6,000-12,000 visitors (uh, large enough range there, folks?) and got about 10,000. No comment on the outer appearance from me, though. I was taught that if I can’t say something nice…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Providence Daily Dose