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RISD's Chace Center and an alum's major glass exhibit to open in fall

Rhode Island School of Design officials recently announced that the school's planned Chace Center, to open in September, will be home to an installation featuring one of the school's most famous alums, glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.

The Chace Center, a multi-purpose building that will be located on North Main Street, is intended to provide more accessibility to RISD from downtown Providence, The Herald reported in October 2005. Locating the Chihuly installation on the third floor was necessary in order to connect it with the existing RISD Museum on Benefit Street, which is built "on the side of a cliff," said Hope Alswang, the museum's director.

The building will officially open on Sept. 27, said RISD Museum Director of Communications Matt Montgomery. The first two floors of the building, which will contain student spaces, will be open to RISD students when classes start in the fall. The new installation, "Chihuly at RISD," will be housed in a 6,000-square-foot gallery, Montgomery said. The installation will be comprised of 22,000 pieces of glass, though Chihuly has not revealed his exact plans for the space, Montgomery said.

"I'm hoping it will be an Aladdin's cave of splendor and that it will bring together the color and form he's famous for," Alswang said. "Dale Chihuly is a RISD graduate, and we were looking for a strong RISD story and somebody who would bring a real excitement to the opening. You want to open with somebody who is very exciting and very accessible to the general public."

Chihuly has created pieces for the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark., according to Morgan.

Montgomery said that RISD officials also chose a glass sculptor instead of an artist who worked with paintings or prints to create the inaugural exhibition because the conditions in a new building are not always conducive to paintings or prints.

Visiting Professor of History of Art and Architecture William Morgan, who teaches HIAA2870D: "Architecture of the Contemporary Art Museum" this semester, said that even though he is not a fan of Chihuly's work, he can see why it would be appropriate for the Chace Center. "It's a perfect thing for them. Chihuly is a real crowd-pleaser and it will be a real draw," he said.

Morgan also compared Chihuly to a rock star. "He got everybody interested in glass again," Morgan said. "He took glass from being a craft into being a major museum art."

"You can always spot the Chihuly. He does these large wall installations. It's technically very proficient," he said. "They're kind of way over the top."

In addition to being a RISD alum, Chihuly founded RISD's Glass department and taught there for over ten years, Montgomery said. He now works at a studio in Seattle. Morgan said he was not sure whether Chihuly himself actually blows glass anymore, as he has a team of workers in his studio.

Alswang said it was RISD President Roger Mandle's idea to have Chihuly create an installation for the Chace Center. "Chihuly was honorary chair of the capital campaign for the new building. It made a strong opportunity for the new building since he had been involved in the campaign and had a strong commitment to RISD," Alswang said. "I think that's why Roger felt it would be so effective."

In addition to the "Chihuly at RISD" installation, the Chace Center will feature a smaller exhibition highlighting students who studied with Chihuly at RISD or at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, Montgomery said.

RISD also plans to open a cafe, a shop and an auditorium for the building, Montgomery said. Construction is expected to be completed in June.


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