Dale Chihuly & Tad Savinar
Savage Gallery 223-2868
Through June 23

The new Pearl district wonder, Savage Gallery, presents an unlikely combination of artists for its second exhibit. Dale Chihuly, the internationally-acclaimed glass artist from Seattle, unveils a cast of formally intriguing objects and installations, and Tad Savinar shows graphic, text-based prints that insert a conceptual ingredient into the exhibit. Though it is an odd marriage, the two bodies of work play off each other by showcasing contrasting impulses.

The back room of the new space provides an appropriate home for Chihuly's work. High, vaulted ceilings which house an array of skylights boldly illuminate his glass menagerie. Taking center stage is one of the artist's better offerings--a large, suspended conglomeration of glass that forms a chandelier. It's an impressive display of the glass pioneer's technical prowess, an active shape that accentuates the organic and fluid nature of glassblowing.

The piece, Vintage Gold and Amber Chandelier, which sells for a cool $300k, is a striking mass of glass objects, grouped into a form not unlike a bunch of grapes. The scale of the piece is enveloping, and the play of light and glass creates a near-cathedral effect. The individual shapes vary between transparent, snake-like tendrils with burnt yellowtails, to rounded, yellow-toned platelet forms.

While there are some lovely formal elements in the work, including color combination and interesting textures, the overall effect is a bit over the top, almost kitschy. Unlike the supreme elegance of Chihuly's past chandeliers, this one borders on gaudy. The artist's choice to pigment some of the glass forms with a metallic substance is a curious one--a decision that makes the work reminiscent of grandma's cheap party earrings. With the omission of this element, the work mimics various themes; it appears biological but also resembles something from the sea. As Chihuly pushes the glass into new directions, the effects become increasingly interesting.

The front room of the gallery hosts a collection of screen prints titled Youniverse, by Tad Savinar. The three-time NEA grant recipient displays graphic layers of text and image, bent on provoking thoughts of the universal-plus-personal.

The technical aspects of Savinar's work are well-tuned. His clean screenprints utilize high contrast and keen composition. His image choices are simple and symbolic, layered smartly with text fragments. The questions arrive at this point, as one considers the exact vocabulary that Savinar employs. His words become part of a palette, and are open to a greater scrutiny. Written language is more readily consumed than visual language, so the situation is naturally problematic.

In this case, a word can be worth a thousand pictures, or worth nothing at all. I often wonder what artists such as Savinar, or contemporaries Barbara Krueger and Jenny Holzer would present if the use of text was not an option. For example, let's examine Savinar's piece, A Question. A background image of a molecular model sets the stage for the text, What if there really is a heaven? Unfortunately, this sentence is a puddle of predictability. Is the text necessary? What is Savinar used a visual element to contrast the molecular image? Or what if he only used the word heaven, or simply the phrase what if? In this instance, the problem of text is pronounced. The artist uses the written word very directly, therefore discounting a visual experience.

In other attempts, however, Savinar gets more interesting. In the piece Patterns, an agrarian grid unfolds and an aerial perspective highlights the layout of a small town. In tones of orange, Savinar prints this rural mapping, which includes a scattered development of homes, a couple of churches, and a few storefronts. Layered with this image is a sampling of statements like, "I appreciated a full youth," "I yearned for the wide open country," and "I anticipated the seasons." These textual fragments begin to form an abstract narrative, one which allows the viewer to participate. One can step into this small town and recall their past and their own upbringing. This active viewing is a product of Savinar at his most exquisite. He gives only enough information and provocation for the viewer to begin an individual, interesting journey.

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