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Glass collection has new gallery
Curator Gary Baker is leading a tour of the new Contemporary Glass Gallery at the Chrysler Museum of Art when an excited visitor catches his attention.
Peering in through a large glass showcase constructed in the wall, the woman surveys the eye-catching space from her vantage point in the museum's sky-lit central courtyard, then grins and gives the curator an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Such reactions have become disarmingly familiar since the new permanent gallery opened just a dozen days ago, providing the Chrysler's world-famous collection of glass with a significantly buffed-up profile. But Baker still smiles with pleasure at the impromptu vote of confidence.
"Frankly, I have been amazed at the response," he says.
"I actually had one lady call in and leave a weepy message on my answering machine."
With more than 10,000 examples all told, the Chrysler is no stranger to the importance of its renowned glass collection. Only three other museums in the country can boast such a massive horde - and the strongest parts of these encyclopedic holdings spark envy as well as admiration among the Chrysler's peers.
The attraction remained mysteriously veiled, however, even after it moved into a greatly improved home during the museum's massive $13.5 million renovation and expansion project in 1989. Though filled with eye-catching material, the rambling, 6,000-square-foot galleries remained largely out of view, their riches becoming apparent only after visitors made their way to a partially hidden entrance.
It didn't take long before the pace of new acquisitions began to outgrow the space, especially for the often large-scale works of contemporary artists.
"The old galleries just stopped where the collection stopped - but our collection has been growing at a remarkable rate over the past few years," museum Director William J. Hennessey says.
"So we really needed the extra space."
Though relatively modest in size, the new 500-square-foot gallery seems far larger than the furniture display it replaces, partly because of a new passageway that connects the space to the rest of the glass galleries.
Equally important is the streamlined exhibition design, which places all of the nearly 40 objects along the edges of the room and leaves the middle open.
Most significant, however, is the way the objects here and in the adjoining Art Deco gallery, which also was reconfigured as part of the project, play to visitors making their way through the museum's central courtyard.
Few eyes will escape the pull of Howard Ben Tre's massive "Column 20," an 800-pound, cast-glass tower that beckons through the new gallery's doors - or the world-class collection of early 20th-century Lalique that gleams from the nearby, through-the-wall showcase.
"We hope that teasing people just a little bit will make them all the more eager to see these remarkable holdings," Hennessey says.
"They really are wonderful objects."
Mark St. John Erickson can be reached at 247-4783 or by e-mail at email@example.com.