Atlanta Botanical Garden's Chihuly exhibit opens April 30

A 2004 outdoor art exhibition by Dale Chihuly sparked positive growth of many kinds at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and the Midtown attraction now plans to hold the biggest outdoor show the Seattle glass artist has ever created.

“Chihuly in the Garden,” featuring more than 20 installations composed of hundreds of pieces of colorful glass, will take over the 30-acre green space beside Piedmont Park from April 30 to Oct. 30, 2016.

The exhibit will help mark the 40th anniversary of the garden, which doubled its footprint from 15 to 30 acres as part of an expansion completed in 2010.

Enhancements to the property continue apace, with the Children's Garden now under renovation and construction continuing on Linton's in the Garden. Chef Linton Hopkins' "plant-to-plate" restaurant concept is expected to debut around the time "Chihuly in the Garden" opens.

"In some regards, Chihuly and the garden, we've grown up together — not together, but simultaneously," garden President and CEO Mary Pat Matheson said in an exclusive interview with the AJC. "Chihuly and his design team were relatively new to the garden exhibit world when they came here. And we were just a young garden, (and) the Chihuly exhibit was our coming out party."

For what was a first-time effort to market the botanical attraction as an open-air museum, garden visitation mushroomed from 200,000 to 425,000 in 2004, and memberships rose from 12,000 to 19,000 households.

The eyepatch-wearing artist, now 74, appears to have more drawing power than ever.

Last year, a Chihuly show was the main factor in the Denver Botanic Gardens attracting 1.4 million guests, making it the most-visited public garden in North America for 2014.

Matheson said that members and other guests never stopped asking for an Atlanta encore, which she acknowledged she has pursued for six or seven years.

Plans call for Chihuly’s kaleidoscopic colors to be displayed throughout the grounds, including in Storza Woods, where additional gardens and connecting walkways opened last spring, and inside Fuqua Conservatory and Fuqua Orchid Center.

Every Chihuly exhibit is designed to be site-specific, and roughly a third of “Chihuly in the Garden” is being created uniquely for Atlanta. The works will be on view amid plantings, floating in pools and suspended in air.

Highlights promise to include the chartreuse Hornet Chandelier suspended from the Canopy Walk, hovering over bright purple reeds and other plantings rising from the forest floor, and, rising at one end of the Water Mirror pool nearby, the 30-foot-tall neon Saffron Tower.

The garden plans to be open five nights a week, with Chihuly’s glass bathed in light. A separate admission charge has yet to be determined.

The garden’s record for annual attendance — 523,000, set in 2013 — could be at risk.

“I think there’s a quality to Dale’s exhibitions that you don’t see in a lot of art,” Matheson said, attempting to explain the public’s attraction to it. “It’s almost magnetizing. It’s charismatic. It’s spectacularly beautiful, particularly in an outdoor setting. He understands scale and color and the juxtaposition of glass and nature in a way that few artists do.”