News and Events
Glass Act: Chihuly Exhibit Shatters Museum’s Attendance Records
By Jerry Derloshon
The Chihuly exhibit, which ran from November 2004 to March 2005, was by far the most well attended exhibition in the history of Pepperdine’s Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art. Michael Zakian, director, had the kind of a hit on his hands that curators often only dream about.
The August Rodin exhibit, which opened in January 2001, set a record with 5,000 people. A year later, a Wayne Thibault exhibit hosted 10,000 visitors. The Chihuly glass art exhibit shattered both marks attracting 31,681 people to Pepperdine, many of whom were first-time visitors.
“During the torrential rains which closed major roads leading to Malibu the second weekend of January, a ton of people still found ways to get to the museum,” says Zakian, who joined Pepperdine in 1995. “They must have used hydroplanes.”
Zakian said the reason for the large turnout is that Dale Chihuly’s work appeals to a popular audience. “He’s one of the few artists who really captures the popular imagination. But, unlike many other artists whose popularity began with the public,” explains Zakian. “Chihuly earned respect first from the art world – collectors and curators – and the public’s ‘discovery’ of him followed.”
That discovery was due in large part to a PBS television documentary in 1995 on the artist’s major outdoor installation, Chihuly Over Venice. One viewer who had kept an eye on the glass artist’s fledgling career was Zakian, and seeing the PBS special convinced him that one day, Chihuly’s work would be the first glass art installation at Pepperdine.
During its run, the exhibit attracted a diverse audience of elementary schoolchildren, high school students, and people from all age groups and backgrounds. “People were enthralled by the glass sculptures and were curious about how the sculptures were made,” said Zakian who added that a video on Chihuly played continuously and were available for sale. “We couldn’t keep enough of them in stock to keep up with demand.”
Working with the artists and sharing in their creative processes is what the native New Yorker most enjoys about his job. Sometimes there are interesting challenges. Just six weeks before the Chihuly opening, the artist asked Zakian to install part of the exhibit on Eucalyptus tree trunks. Zakian turned to Clark Cowan, a Seaver alumnus and supporter of Pepperdine who runs a major local landscaping company, to help out. They ended up bringing 12-foot long tree trunks from Camarillo to Pepperdine on one of Cowan’s flatbed trucks.
Zakian said the other ongoing challenge is to give people a good reason to drive to Malibu and walk through the museum’s doors. “The challenge is to present art exhibitions that the community will find meaningful and respond to. And, it’s very hard with venues such as the Getty and other excellent local museums competing with one another.”
Zakian, who holds a Ph.D. from State University, New Jersey, takes it in stride. He’s pleased with the recent successes which he knows present a certain level of expectation, but rather than let it drive him crazy, he’s finding ways to deal with all the added pressure. An admitted “closet artist,” he says he relishes attending weekly painting classes and only half-jokingly adds, “I want to be a famous artist someday.”
This article is a preview to the Pepperdine Voice Magazine, Summer 2005.