Choosing a Chihuly
Crystal Bridges offers chance to vote on glass piece it keeps
Visitors look at Sole d’Oro by Dave Chihuly in July at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Crystal Bridges plans to buy one of the glass sculptures in the Chihuly exhibition. Visitors will get a chance to select which one as part of a contest beginning this week.
BENTONVILLE — Lisa Brence and Shane Kinniell have a special connection to glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s Sole d’Oro on display at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
The object was the backdrop to a personal moment for the Northwest Arkansas couple on July 23, when Kinniell dropped to one knee and asked Brence to marry him. So Brence said Chihuly’s intricate sculpture, with its 1,300 pieces of twisting and curling handblown glass, will hold a permanent place in their hearts as they move forward in their lives together.
“I don’t know where that piece will end up because these are traveling exhibits,” Brence said. “But it’s a piece we’re going to follow.
Wherever that ends up, anywhere in the world … that’s ours.”
Brence and Kinniell may not have to go far to keep track of it. There’s a chance Sole d’Oro will find a permanent home at Crystal Bridges as the museum prepares to acquire one of the pieces that have been on display as part of its “Chihuly: In the Gallery and in the Forest” temporary exhibition.
The Bentonville museum has decided to add one of the glass sculptor’s most popular works to its collection and has narrowed the choices to four pieces, including Sole d’Oro. The others are the Azure Icicle Chandelier hanging from the museum’s gallery bridge, the Fiori Boat full of colorful glass on the outdoor trail, and the Niijima Floats drifting in Crystal Pond.
But there’s a twist: Crystal Bridges won’t select which of the four objects to purchase from the Chihuly team. It is leaving that portion of the process to the public, who have two weeks to decide which of Chihuly’s works will remain a permanent fixture when the exhibit ends.
Rod Bigelow, the museum’s executive director, said the decision to include the public on the purchasing process, in part, is because of the exhibition’s popularity since opening in late May.
“Everyone on our team have heard from guests about how excited they are about the exhibition and there has been a really positive outcry to keep it all, which is not possible,” Bigelow said. “But you have to keep something. So our curatorial team has gone through this rigorous process that they do when we collect work. They didn’t have go to all the way to the final object, but they did the work to identify which four works would have a big impact and have a somewhat significant scale.”
Crystal Bridges is announcing the plan to get the public involved in an acquisition as the gallery portion of the indoor-outdoor exhibition prepares to close on Aug. 14. The outdoor portion, on the museum’s newly renovated North Forest Trail, remains on view until Nov. 13.
The dual exhibition at Crystal Bridges has featured 300 objects spanning Chihuly’s 50-year career and was part of a collaboration with the sculptor and his team in Seattle.
Chihuly and members of his team first toured Crystal Bridges in 2013, laying the groundwork for an exhibition that has put both iconic and new creations on display in Bentonville.
Bigelow believes the response to the exhibition has been “incredible.” The museum said more than 106,000 guests have visited the indoor and outdoor portions so far during its 11-week run. Crystal Bridges also hosted 87,000 total guests in July, a record for the museum.
Couples like Brence and Kinniell were engaged in front of Chihuly’s work. Musician Sheryl Crow posed for a picture in front of the Niijima Floats at Crystal Pond during a tour stop in Northwest Arkansas last month. The museum even hosted a wedding beneath the Azure Icicle Chandelier.
Membership has spiked as well. There were 9,164 members on April 30, roughly one month before the Chihuly exhibition opened to the public. The number grew to 13,354 as of July 1.
“I think people have jumped in and wanted to be part of the museum as part of this exhibition,” Bigelow said. “I think that’s a great thing for us and for the community because we’re able to share more things and connect people to more experiences. I think it’s incredibly correlated.”
Britt Cornett, head of exhibitions for the Chihuly Studio, said Chihuly has been thrilled by the public’s response to his work at Crystal Bridges. The Chihuly team has remained in regular contact with Crystal Bridges throughout the exhibition and Cornett believes the museum’s plan to turn to its visitors to select which piece to acquire is a “wonderful way to engage the community.”
“Dale will often ask people what’s your favorite installation in the exhibition and this is kind of a formalized way of that same approach,” Cornett said. “We think it’s a great concept.”
Anyone interested in voting for one of the four objects can do so beginning Saturday and will remain open until Aug. 23. The public can vote either at the museum or on Facebook.
Bigelow said Crystal Bridges already has worked out the acquisition price for each of the four objects that have been selected by the curatorial team. The Chihuly piece that receives the most votes will be purchased and added to the permanent collection.
“We’re going to feel great about any of the objects we collect,” Bigelow said. “We can’t collect all four, but we wanted to bring in the public and we want to hear the public even more specifically. So inviting them to be part of the selection process is an exciting thing for us.”
“I think it will be a great addition to our collection — whatever it is.”
There’s no doubt which piece Brence and Kinniell will be rooting for the next two weeks.
Brence said art and Crystal Bridges have played a large role in their relationship and both had been particularly amazed by Sole d’Oro on an earlier trip to the Chihuly exhibition. So the piece was “the perfect place” for their engagement.
“To know it will be a part of my life forever, I can’t even describe it,” Brence said.
The dual exhibition at Crystal Bridges has featured 300 objects spanning Chihuly’s 50year career and was part of a collaboration with the sculptor and his team in Seattle.
The Fiori Boat artwork by Dave Chihuly is displayed at the outdoors exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
Rick Holland installs Azure Icicle Chandeleir, an artwork by Dave Chihuly in May at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. The exhibit is open to the public.