Following a class of grammar school children through a building full of (very breakable) glass art was a great way to spend my Wednesday morning. It was just too funny. The teachers were, to put it mildly, terrified; they circled the kids like riot police waiting for the first bottle to be thrown. But credit the students for being on their best behavior. They knew the drill: No touching. No running. No shoving. And the adults weren’t off the hook: No food, drinks, or giant purses for you, ma’am. Just look at the 15-foot Sealife Tower and name the sea creatures in the installation, please.

So went my walkthrough of the new Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, the multimillion-dollar, 1.5-acre exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s glasswork that officially opens May 21. Not everyone’s pleased that this prime public space went to a private gallery, and truth be told, it’d be easy to breeze through the building in 15 minutes and come out the other side wondering where your $15 bucks went. Seattleites have grown so accustomed to seeing “Chihulys” around town— Macchias on tables in Mercer Island homes, or sets for Bluebeard’s Castle at Benaroya Hall—that we might dismiss what’s familiar.

That’s why I’m glad I tailed the schoolkids. It forced me to take more time in each room and appreciate the attention to detail: how Chihuly figured out a way to thread colors of molten glass like one might weave a basket or blanket, or how swans and dolphins appear subtly in his Chandeliers. Most impressive is his newest (and largest) creation, the 1,400-odd individual Persians that comprise the Glasshouse installation (see above). The airy greenhouse space—with a prime view of the Space Needle—is a bright, welcoming spot that opens onto a plaza and outdoor garden of Mille Fiori. It’s a glass Eden both inside and out.

Despite the nine galleries offering a retrospective of Chihuly’s career, and a theater with short videos on loop showing the artist’s process, I found myself wishing for more—more to read about each piece, or video panels in each room showing the making of the art. I wanted an education in glassblowing; instead, I spent a morning with students in Chihuly 101.

View the slideshow for a preview of the Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Chihuly Garden and Glass
Opens May 21 at Seattle Center
Mon–Thu 11–8, Fri–Sun 10–9, $12–$19

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