The talk of Salk: Chihuly brings in his glass works

Among the many insights of polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk was the idea that science and art go together. In keeping with that idea, the Salk Institute in La Jolla will mark its 50th anniversary with the opening of an art exhibit, “Chihuly at the Salk.”

The outdoor installation of more than 12 hand-blown glass sculptures by international artist Dale Chihuly will be set against the stark, angular research buildings of the institute overlooking the ocean and in the nearby eucalyptus grove. The community is invited to take a tour of the sculptures and meet Chihuly in a series of events from April 22-27.

Chihuly, whose works are on display in 200 museums around the world, will give a lecture on April 25 about some of his installations and in particular, the installation at the Salk, which was inspired by the institute’s landmark architecture designed by architect Louis Kahn. The institute is composed of two mirror image research buildings made of concrete, steel, teakwood and leaded glass flanking a courtyard.

“I always look for great places to install my artwork — environments that are interesting, beautiful and have a great architectural feel,” Chihuly said. “The stark visually powerful architecture of the Salk Institute is just one of those kinds of places where I know my artwork and the architecture are going to come together just right.”

At 15 feet high, the dramatic “White Tower” and “The Sun” are the largest of Chihuly’s works to be displayed. “White Tower” includes blown-glass elements ranging from white to light and neon pink, and is composed of chandelier parts in a traditional Czech motif. “The Sun” is a conglomeration of bright orange and yellow strands of hand-blown glass forms emanating from a steel core.

“If you take a thousand blown pieces of a color, put them together, and then shoot light through them, that’s going to be something to look at,” Chihuly said.

Other works on display include “Macchia,” which is speckled with colors that result from rolling the molten glass in smaller shards of colored glass during the glass-blowing process. Chihuly’s “Niijima Floats” are large spheres up to 40 inches in diameter and about 60 pounds, with richly colored surfaces in gold and silver leaf and foil; and “Chandeliers” are large hanging sculptures assembled from hundreds of colorful, tentaclelike glass pieces.

“This fusion of extraordinary scientific, architectural and artistic creativity is indicative of the true spirit of our founder, Jonas Salk,” Salk Institute President William Brody said.

Three of Chihuly’s works will remain on exhibit at the Salk Institute through the end of the summer, and the others will be on display only for a week, during which the tours will be held.

“This is an homage to Jonas Salk, who was interested in art, and believed that creativity was important in all disciplines, including science,” said Susan Trebach, a spokeswoman for the Salk Institute.

Salk founded the nonprofit institute in 1960. Since then, the research institute has drawn internationally known scientists to explore fundamental life science questions in a creative environment. Salk scientists have made groundbreaking discoveries in areas such as cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s and infectious diseases by studying genetics, cell and plant biology and neuroscience. Their work has been recognized internationally with honors such as the Nobel Prize.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary event, Chihuly created a poster that shows his sculpture “The Sun” surrounded by the institute’s iconic buildings. The poster is intended as a symbol of the collaboration between Chihuly and the Salk Institute.

Chihuly at the Salk

  • Installation tours: 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 5 p.m. April 22-23
  • Regular tours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 24; 9 a.m. to noon, 2 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. April 26-27
  • Tickets: $15; tours run every 15 minutes and last about an hour
  • Lecture and book signing: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 25; $50
  • Where: The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 10010 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla
  • Contact: (858) 597-0657,