New Chihuly Glass-art Center Shines under Seattle’s Space Needle

Dale Chihuly’s Seattle Center installation, Chihuly Garden and Glass, opens May 21 at the base of the Space Needle.

A 45,000 square foot exhibition designed by glass artist Dale Chihuly to showcase thousands of his glass pieces of art opens May, 21 at the base of Seattle's iconic space needle. Photo: Chihulygardenandglass.com

The high-profile commission, aimed to be “a huge shot in the arm” for the Space Needle Corp. as it celebrates the 50 year anniversary of Seattle’s World’s Fair, has already faced speculations of critics. Locals feared the loss of open space, stating that the world didn’t need another Chihuly museum.

“It (represents) almost 50 years of Dale’s work,” said exhibition CEO Michelle Bufano. “I hope people walk away with an understanding of how significant his work is, and who he is as an artist. It’s so comprehensive.”

As The Seattle Times writes, the Dale Chihuly’s permanent exhibit at Seattle Center is a glass conservatory where visitors can gaze up at the Space Needle framed by 1,250 colorful Persian glass pieces suspended from the ceiling.

The Seattle scene — one the Space Needle and Chihuly corporations is predicted to draw attention of 400,000 visitors a year.

Chihuly’s exhibits, which are quite popular around the world, have been squeezed into museums or worked into existing botanical gardens.

However, the Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass construction has one unique feature: it was designed by Chihuly himself.

“What I wanted to do there was take the very best from all the museum shows I’ve done over the years and add a couple of new parts to it,” he said. “I’m so pleased with the results. It was beyond my expectations, really.”

When seeing it for the first time, it’s hard to remember what was there before — the tired Fun Forest, which for all its happy memories had lost its charm. Even those who have watched the daily transformation at the base of the Needle are short of breath.

“It really is his canvas,” assured Ron Sevart, president and CEO of the Space Needle Corp. “He’s always creating.”

The exhibition, which is estimated at about $20 million and financed by the Space Needle Corp., is a “huge shot in the arm” for the Center as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair, said Center director Robert Nellams.

“I thought it was going to be special, but I didn’t envision it being as special as it’s actually becoming,” he said.

The exhibition opens today with a special ceremony at 9 a.m. involving the artist and his wife, Leslie, who is president of Chihuly Studio, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, chairman of Space Needle Corp. Jeff Wright, and Bufano. Doors open to the public at 11 a.m.

“I think that it’s great that we’re going to have the infusion of cash that it will bring with it,” said Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden. “It, as you know, is going to pay pretty good, fairly hefty rent.”

The $15-$19 ticket prices are higher than the $12-$15 the Space Needle Corp. estimated in its proposal to the city, but Sevart, the CEO, explained that the set price is comparable to similar attractions. “The project has evolved,” he said, adding that the exhibit will offer free days.

The visitors will be able to wander through the garden, passers-by can see much of the outdoor artwork for free, as well as the suspended Persian glass, snaking along the high-ceiling glass house.

The glass house was inspired by Chihuly’s long love of conservatories, his effort, he said, “to make something that no one’s ever seen before … I just wanted to make it as stunning and as beautiful as I could.”

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