Chihuly sculptures shine at Salk Institute

Jonas Salk probably had a big smile on his face Saturday if he was looking down on the research institute that bears his name where artist Dale Chihuly was walking among his sculptures.

And even as Chihuly and Dr. William Brody, president of The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, talked of the marriage of art and science and creativity that was Salk’s vision in designing Louis Kahn’s landmark structure, nearby was a person who exemplified the dream: William Alaynick, who used to help in the Chihuly Studio, is now a post-doctoral candidate at the institute.

Chihuly, during a few moments with the press — much to the delight of onlookers — noted that “Science is extremely creative and art is extremely creative ... they go together very well.”

The relationship also was mentioned by one of the Chihuly technical team members, Steve Cochran, who remarked about “how savvy and supportive the staff has been ... they deal with science and its exacting demands and have a wonderful understanding ... and respect for our work.”

With more than 4,000 tickets issued for the sold-out event, which included a book signing and lecture on Sunday and day and nighttime docent-guided tours through Wednesday, the event succeeded in exposing more San Diegans to the institute as Qualcomm founder and Salk board chairman Irwin Jacobs set out to do when he underwrote the exhibit, said Susan Trebach, senior director of communications.

Chihuly spokesman Billy O'Neill, who guided reporters around the courtyard, said Jacobs and Chihuly met about 10 years ago through a mutual friend. Over the years, he said, the artist — noted for working and creating at such locations as Jerusalem, Venice and Finland — and Jacobs talked about a show in La Jolla. Their idea moved toward reality about eight to nine months ago.

Picking “The Sun,” which was first exhibited at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, was an easy decision for this location, O'Neill said. There was a slight complication though because it’s also due to be seen in a show in Nashville so they delayed that installation until the very end.

“It was important for Dale to have it here,” O'Neill noted. “He wanted to take advantage of the architecture, but didn’t want to dominate the space.”

With the pieces installed throughout the entry court, among trees and bushes, as well as at the focal point of the main courtyard surrounded by the concrete and teak of the institute’s north and south labs with the Pacific Ocean stretching beyond, visitors had an opportunity not often part of Chihuly’s shows, he added. They were able to walk up and touch the pieces — even “tap on them,” which O'Neill said made for some jittery nerves at times.

While the public interacted with the art in their own way, several people mentioned that part of the mission of the Salk Institute is to let people engage and interact with others within and without of their specialties. That’s one reason there are no interior walls in the research spaces.

Meanwhile, outside, Trebach noted, the exhibit has had a similar effect: Scientists who normally stay within the confines of the north and south labs have been spending more time talking to each other outside as they viewed the exhibit.