PROVIDENCE, R.I. - In paint-encrusted boots and his trademark eye patch, renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly showed off the colorful, swirling designs that are part of a new $34 million expansion at the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design.
The Chihuly installation is in the special exhibition gallery of RISD's new Chace Center. The exhibit opened to the public Sept. 27.
The installation marks a homecoming of sorts for Chihuly, who studied and taught at RISD — one of the nation's most prestigious art and design schools — and whose intricate glass installations have appeared everywhere from Jerusalem to Las Vegas to Dubai.
Chihuly's ties to the school made him an obvious choice to open the Chace Center addition to the 131-year-old museum, said Hope Alswang, the museum's director.
Organizers picked Chihuly of all the school's graduates because of his "gravitas and voice and magic," she said.
Chihuly earned a master's degree in ceramics from RISD and studied and taught there for 20 years, serving as a visiting artist in 1990. Now 67 and living in Seattle, Chihuly said he always wanted to show here.
"I'm kind of glad, actually, that it took this long," he said before leading a media tour of his work. "I can only do a show that's as good as the space."
The Chace Center exhibit includes familiar Chihuly stylistic flourishes as well as some newer pieces.
One piece, called "Mille Fiore," or "thousand flowers" in Italian, features a central chandelier crawling with gray, snakelike glass forms, the mass nearly touching the reflective black plexiglass floor.
Growing from the floor around it are tall, bright yellow and black formations like alien plants — some shooting 8 feet straight up and some twisting and bending back. He's been designing this kind of installation only for the past two to three years, he said.
The exhibit also features Venetian-inspired vases, a wall of his acrylic renderings that precede the glass works, and "baskets," which he started making in 1978, inspired by his collection of Northwest Native American baskets.
He's also recreated a 1971 work originally made at RISD but since moved elsewhere. For this piece, which he said was unusually fragile, thin fleshy growths pumped with neon reach up from another black, reflective alcove.
The Chace Center holds more than just exhibition space. About 26,000 works on paper — including prints, drawings and photographs — are stored there, and students are already working in new classrooms and studios.
A new gallery space devoted to student-curated shows is also bringing graduates and undergraduates together in a dialogue that's never happened before, the gallery's director Mark Moscone said.