>Indianapolis boasts of the largest Children’s Museum in the world. While this is true, I find no value in its size; I dislike self-reported claims of being the biggest, tallest, largest anything, because these terms have nothing to do with quality. But, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a worthwhile place, with great quality learning experiences for kids and their adult guides. It is a fantastic environment for children, one that presents learning experiences in a fun way.

Several years ago, when my son was in grade school, we went to an exhibit of Alexander Calder works at the Children’s Museum. I loved this idea of bringing art to a place dedicated to children. Not only did Calder’s whimsical works seem at home in the exhibit space, but the way in which the artist’s work was presented — on the level of a child and in a hands-on way — was outstanding. The words “Hands-on” and “art” used together may frighten a curator with visions of chocolate and peanut-butter hand prints leaving greasy marks on once priceless, now ruined canvas. But hands-on for this exhibit meant activities like jumping under a mobile to generate air currents to set the sculpture in motion, or being given the materials to make one’s own mobile inspired by Calder’s work. Over the years other exhibits dealing with art have been at the museum. A few years ago, for example, there was an exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings and his Saturday Evening Post magazine covers. Incorporating child’s play with art is something that isn’t done often enough.

Then, last year, the museum did something else: the installation of a 43-foot glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly in the main staircase of the museum. The sculpture, Fireworks of Glass is playful. It is composed of thousands of pieces of primary-colored glass curlicues. It sits upon a glass ceiling.

I visited the museum recently and saw Fireworks of Glass for the first time. This was not the first Chihuly exhibit I had seen; in fact, I’ve seen several previously. While his glass chandeliers that I have seen (like this one at the V&A in London) are composed of translucent glass that catch the light, the sculpture at the Childrens’ Museum is made up of opaque pieces of glass. The pieces of glass seem to swirl around the main column, as if caught in a vortex by tornadic winds. The tower is capped by a starburst. Looking at it from either the top or bottom floors of the museum, it does resemble a fireworks explosion, suspending in air, just before the burning embers tumble towards the ground and disappear as they cool. The tower is in the middle of an enormous staircase — a ramp system actually — that takes the visitor to each of the 5 floors of the museum. The piece seems to fit so perfectly in the space, you would think that the ramp was designed around the sculpture. Despite all of the times that I have been to the Children’s Museum over the years, I cannot tell you anything about the central staircase before the glass tower was added. The sculpture not only fills the space, but it defines it as well.

Visitors to the museum can sit under the sculpture, on the basement floor, and look upwards through the glass ceiling to the sculpture. The museum is currently featuring a short movie about the artist and there are hands-on exhibits for children to learn about the art of glassmaking. Very cool. There is even a rotating bench that you can sit upon, reclining slightly, to look up through the ceiling at the sculpture and the lights sparkling off of it. When I was last at the museum, I was there for a benefit. Dressed in formal wear, I couldn’t bring myself to recline on the bench and look up at the tower. Nor did I see anyone else doing that. An evening dress and heels are not exactly conducive to rotating reclining benches. Plus, I wasn’t certain that I would have been able to return to a vertical position after sitting on that bench — at least not in any sort of graceful manner.

Later I realized how sad this was that we didn’t say ‘screw decorum’, sit upon the bench and gaze up in child-like wonder. After all, isn’t art suppose to spur you to think and to feel? Ah, apparently only if you let it take its full effect.

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