Darren Goodman plays with fire. It’s part of his artistic medium of choice — he blows glass. His extraordinary, downright gorgeous results are now on view in the Cincinnati Art Museum’s biennial 4th Floor Award exhibition, this year titled Trial by Fire. It’s up through year’s end.
The 4th Floor Award is made by a group of museum members interested in contemporary art and is named for a level that doesn’t exist in the museum's building but theoretically could contain much-needed gallery space for contemporary art. An open call for entries was narrowed to six semifinalists; studio visits and discussion resulted in three finalists plus Goodman as the top winner.
“Tears of Joy,” his exhibition’s centerpiece, hovers tremulously over a field of sand in the first-floor temporary exhibition gallery, flanked by a wall of manifold variations on the theme of the bottle. The bottles sport racing colors of Ferrari automobiles (more on that later). A third element, rightly called “Fantasia,” consists of three pieces that might be termed bottles on steroids. Each stands on delicate feet and the necks have become arabesques in the air. The tallest of these shimmering works is nearly 4 feet high.
The 31-year-old artist intended to become a Rock star, not a glass blower, although his original major at Bowling Green State University was business. By the time he graduated he had become a glass-blowing major. At his Waynesville, Ohio, studio/workshop, established in 2005, Goodman also teaches glassblowing but music remains in his life. The soundtrack of a video in the gallery, showing the dramatic process of blowing glass, is Goodman on the ukulele, playing a tune of his own composition.
Each individual component of “Tears of Joy” is hollow, transparent and teardrop-shaped, some clear and some in varying shades of blue, suspended by the curved end of what Goodman calls the tail: a long, startlingly slender extension that might be as slim as a drinking straw and, like a straw, is hollow. Some of the glass is as thin as that in a light bulb, he says, and pieces can reach 10 feet. People walking in the gallery on the floor above produce a faint movement among the lightweight, suspended “Tears.”
The idea for the “Tears” developed from an accident; a hot mass of glass dropped unexpectedly as Goodman blew into it, producing the tear-shaped globe and long tail. “I saw the potential,” he says, and he set about duplicating and refining the process. “There's less than a minute to work with it. The heat goes down from 2,000 degrees to touchable in that time.” Goodman is quick to give credit to the team that works with him in the demanding art of glass blowing.
The sand beneath the “Tears,” Goodman explains, works on several levels as a metaphor. It is where glass comes from, and its composition of many grains making a whole echoes the teamwork required to produce this art. Also, he says while grinning, it's a reminder of the sandbox and suggests that playing in the sand and playing with molten glass have similarities.
He doesn't mention the subliminal relief for the viewer to see these fragile pieces suspended above something that might soften their fall. Yes, there is breakage. “Some broke coming here, some broke when we cleaned them, but amazingly none broke during installation. Breakage is always a part of it. You need to push boundaries.”
The bottles, mostly red and yellow and each unique, line shelves against one gallery wall and are the result of an unexpected commission. A telephone call that Goodman first thought was a solicitation, almost cut off with, “Sorry, not interested,” got his attention when the speaker's accented voice said “Ferrari” and “commission.” Ferrari North America wanted him to make glass bottles as trophies for the Ferrari Challenge automobile race, in Ferrari racing colors. Goodman says he kept his favorites. They are in this exhibition.
Making “Tears,” and glass-blowing in general, could be pure theater. Goodman would like to enlarge on the performance aspect and speaks of perhaps having “a moveable studio to fit in my Jeep, travel around the country with one or two people, give shows.” But meanwhile, the Museum exhibition “is a huge stepping stone for me.”
TRIAL BY FIRE is on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum through Jan. 1, 2012. Visit www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org for details.