Dale Chihuly’s Floats Return to the Addison’s Green Roof

When the Addison Gallery of American Art re-opens on October 8th, the familiar dark glass baubles of the “Floats” by Dale Chihuly (1941-), a popular American sculptor whose main medium is blown glass, will once again adorn the green roof of the gallery.

Chihuly’s floats, titled Black Niijima Floats, were commissioned by the Addison Gallery prior to its re-opening in 2010 and were acquired as a gift from R. Crosby Kemper ’45 through the R. Crosby Kemper Foundation.

The floats at the Addison were the first major permanent installation of Chihuly’s work in Massachusetts and have drawn many visitors, some of whom came to the gallery solely to see the floats.

“We don’t have a great deal of glass [at the Addison] … [The floats are] certainly the first contemporary glass that we’ve added to our collection,” said Susan Faxon, Associate Director and Curator of the Addison Gallery.

Situated on the Addison’s green roof in front of the Museum Learning Center (MLC) the installation is made up of ten round blown glassworks that vary in sizes, ranging from 16 to 32 inches in diameter.

According to Faxon, the Addison proposed that Chihuly design work to go on the green roof to enliven the space as well as to engage viewers.

Although the floats may appear black at first glance, if one takes a closer look, shades of gold, silver and white can be found.

In sunlight, the colors become more visible throughout the day, illustrating the floats’ ever-changing nature.

“The light changes all day, so there’s shade on [the floats] during the early morning, and then by the late afternoon they’re just vibrant with light. Because within them are these swirling colors, so [the floats] are in fact magical and become magical because of the light,” said Faxon.

Not only do the floats change color with the sunlight, but the green roof also changes depending on the seasons and the weather.

The green roof is composed of sedums, low maintenance plants that do not require watering.

Every season, the color of sedums transforms from a light green in the spring to gold in the fall.

Although the green roof’s initial purpose was to assist with the water runoff, the roof has become an integral part of Chihuly’s floats, creating an ideal setting for the installation.

“We told Chihuly right from the start that our goal was to put [the floats] on the green roof with vegetation … [He] made them all kinds of different shapes so they sit very easily within the context of the green, and the green sort of holds them in place,” said Faxon.

According to Faxon, the natural transformation of the floats and their elements of serenity and subtlety were important factors in commissioning the floats for the Addison’s green roof.

Another aspect Addison members had to consider was how Chihuly’s installation might blend into the given space.

“We at the Addison change our exhibitions all the time, so we wanted things that had some flexibility, not a permanent installation around which we would always have to work,” said Faxon.

Anticipating the Addison’s renovation of the roof and the need to temporarily move the floats out, the ability to relocate the work was also an important factor in determining the installation for the green roof.

Despite the initial motivations for commissioning the floats, Chihuly’s installation creates a subtle yet intriguing backdrop for the Addison’s MLC with the continuous transformation of the roof and floats throughout the year.

Faxon spoke for all who appreciate Chihuly’s floats: “[The floats] are really a tremendously engaging contribution to this view… It’s sort of nice that you come upon them that they’re not blazing centerpieces – they’re just a little quiet installation of works that are quite neat.”