Speed Trials

October 15th, 2011  |  Published in *

“Speed Trials” was an essay commissioned for the catalog accompanying the exhibition “Trial by Fire: New Glass Work by Darren Goodman” at the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM). Goodman was selected by the 4th Floor, an associated group of the Museum, for its biennial 4th Floor Award, a competition to promote local artists.

The organization is named for a level that is yet to be built in the Art Museum and encourages future generations of artists and art collectors. The exhibition is on view through January 1, 2012. An expanded version of the essay is reprinted with the permission of Darren Goodman.

Speed Trials

“To truly go fast, you must go slow.”1

—Darren Goodman

Darren Goodman has learned how to go slow and how to make speed work for him, an important lesson for the 30-year-old artist.

To begin with, Goodman’s chosen technique of glassblowing is inherently fast. The glassblower is always in a race to control the material.2 Knowing when to make the right move, like a race driver, is essential. The glassblower is always judging the state of the molten material, which is both his competitor and his vehicle for expression. The glass can’t become so hot that it speeds away and crashes.

In the “Trial by Fire: New Glass Work by Darren Goodman” exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Goodman presents three ongoing bodies of work: Fantasia, begun in 2007; Vetrobottles (vetro is the Italian word for glass), begun in 2008; and Tears of Joy, begun in 2010.

Despite their formal differences, Goodman’s three series have commonalities, all of which derive from Goodman’s reverence for the centuries-old heritage of glassmaking. All are vessels, a form that is naturally made on the blowpipe, but all are far from functional. The vase-like Fantasia might hold a blossom, if its stem were flexible enough. The Vetrobottles with their attenuated necks would be a challenge to fill or empty. And it is hard to imagine exactly how the Tears of Joy would be used. Could they be oddly shaped flasks or retorts used for alchemical3 transmutations?

Goodman differs from other contemporary artists who work with glass in traditional ways, but insist that they be considered sculptors who happen to work with glass or even conceptual artists. For example, Josiah McElheny is a talented glassblower capable of making historically accurate replicas and also fanciful but plausible artifacts for his pseudo-museum installations. McElheny exploits the history of glass while trying to distance himself from it.

Goodman’s attitude is far different. He works within the glass traditions4 to make sculptures that never deny their historical precedents, but rather honor and advance them.

The artist uses traditional decorative methods, such murrini,5 which are patterned buttons of glass; vetro a reticello,6 which uses rods or canes of glass with embedded white or colored threads to create a netlike effect; and trailing,7 where a thin thread of glass spirals around the bubble of hot glass on the blowpipe. But he adapts these techniques for his own aesthetic purposes.

In the first two techniques, the buttons and the canes with their designs are arranged on a steel table or marver and picked up by rolling the hot bubble of glass over them. They will be melted into the bubble, but instead of making static surface patterning, Goodman heats his proto-vessels to distort and stretch the designs, suggesting movement frozen in time. And instead of using trailing for an orderly spiraling effect, Goodman lets his threads of colored glass wander over the surface in a more dynamic way.

In addition to the skewing of these decorative motifs, each of Goodman’s series expresses a sense of speed in different ways. On their three legs, the Fantasia appear capable of scurrying and scattering at any moment. The Ferrari Vetrobottles are from a group that Goodman blew as trophies for the Ferrari 8 races. And it takes only minutes to blow a single Tear of Joy.

The Fantasia forms, sometimes as large as 60” tall, sashay along, swaying to unheard music in a sprightly and lively dance. The series name comes from this sense of movement that reminded a friend of the Disney film Fantasia. In it objects are brought to life to dance with animated characters.

Goodman groups the Fantasia pieces, suggesting an interaction. I see them as a dance troupe, specifically Paul Taylor’s modern dance company. His choreography can be languorous as are the “bodies” of Goodman’s anthropomorphic sculptures with their graceful incline of necks and “heads,” the mouths of the vessels. But Taylor’s dancers can go at breakneck speed in works like Esplanade, where they race across the stage and fling themselves into the arms of their fellow dancers. Goodman’s Fantasia embody that possibility, too.

In 2009 Ferrari commissioned Goodman to make a group of Vetrobottles in Ferrari’s signature red to be used as trophies for the Ferrari Challenge championship races in Italy, Europe, and the U. S. As in the Fantasia, the reticello and murrini patterns are stretched and the trailing is loose. Here the surface designs could represent the battle for control that race drivers must exert over machines capable of attaining speeds of more than 150 mph. The attenuated necks of the sometimes as tall as 48” Vetrobottles reach upward, narrowing and ending definitively in a flared lip, perhaps signifying the end of the race.

Speed plays a vital role in the execution of Goodman’s most recent work, Tears of Joy. The forms are blown quickly with walls so thin that they do not need to be annealed, that is cooled slowly to prevent shattering.

The Tears used for the Cincinnati Art Museum installation were blown during the two-hour period of Goodman’s “glassexperience” performance9 at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion in 2010.

While Goodman gave highlights of the history of glass, two teams of students from his alma mater, Bowling Green University, produced 100 tears, blowing them as quickly as possible. The glassblowers used gravity as a tool to stretch out the Tears’ narrow necks, which end in crooks so that they can hang from a grid of cables.

In the Cincinnati Art Museum installation, Tears of Joy drop from the ceiling, 15 feet above the floor, sometimes reaching it to rest on a mound on sand, one of the basic ingredients of glass.

Goodman envisions adding music, live and/or dj mash-ups, to the demonstration/performance. He would also like to take his show on the road with a portable glassblowing studio. Goodman’s ultimate goal is to do demonstration/performances for large audiences, more than a thousand.

This desire to perform surely comes from his love of music. Proficient on several instruments and a singer, Goodman once thought glassblowing would be his “day job” as he pursued a music career.10

The Tears of Joy’s palette of blues, greens, and clear glass and the use of sandblasting for translucent effects evoke water, as does the fluidity of the form. Suspended in space, they might be seen as gently falling rain.

How Goodman arrived at this form illustrates another guiding principle in his life. He explains, “I’ve learned to embrace the good with the bad openly, and it’s this awaking that I feel has brought me to where I am today, a place where I have begun shedding new tears of my own, tears of joy.”11

The Tears of Joy came from an “accident” during an exercise making bottles. “While shaping a hot molten bubble of glass, the bubble became so hot that I lost control and soon it came flowing down to the floor,” explains Goodman. “My soul was touched by the simplicity and beauty of this new shape and process that I had just found. I knew instantly that this accident could be repeated with control and precision, creating forms and sculpture that is (sic) truly unique to glass.”12

Goodman has used the term “chandelieresque”13 for his Tears of Joy installations. That word recalls internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly’s own so-called “chandeliers.” Neither is actually illuminated. The Tears of Joy forms bear more than a passing resemblance to the Seattle artist’s first chandelier made in 1992 for the Seattle Art Museum’s “Chihuly: Installations, 1964-1992.” It was a last minute addition to the exhibition, and with that time constraint, Chihuly chose the simplest form possible to blow: a sphere that gravity pulled into an ovoid shape. His components, all yellow, looked like balloons filled with water, but with nipples, suggesting other interpretations.14 Since that early work, Chihuly’s chandelier components have become much more sophisticated as evidenced by his 1996 Rio Delle Torreselle Chandelier hanging in the Cincinnati Art Museum’s lobby.

Even though Goodman’s forms are essentially identical to Chihuly’s 1992 elements (without the nipples), they are more elegant. By being installed as individual elements instead of a conglomeration, they slow down the viewer and invite contemplation.

Outside the glass world, there is another comparison to be made, this time with Post-Minimalism.15 and 16 The term was coined by art critic Robert Pincus-Witten in 1971, and refers to work done in reaction to Minimalism, which emphasizes order, geometric forms, hard edges, and industrial or mechanical production. The personality of the artist is erased as anyone could produce this work. Among the leading Minimalist proponents are Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, and Donald Judd.17

Post-Minimalist work is characterized by a sense of the handmade and often is personal and anti-intellectual, all qualities that are the antithesis of Minimalism.

One of Post-Minimalist Eva Hesse’s sculptures that relates almost directly to Goodman’s Tears of Joy is Untitled or Not Yet, 1966, paper, sand, polyethylene, and net.18 Egg-like forms are suspended in net pouches hung on a wall at ever increasing lengths.

Goodman’s Tears of Joy are more refined, a sensual experience rather than Hesse’s cruder and more sexualized forms that had what critic Arthur Danto called Post-Minimalism’s “unmistakable whiff of eroticism.”19

For all the references to speed that can be found in Goodman’s work, it is when the viewer takes time to ponder them—to slow down—that they are the most compelling and rewarding.

—Karen S. Chambers

1. Goodman admits that the world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly is a role model. There are many parallels, but one that he is undoubtedly unaware of is Chihuly’s admonition to the author that instead of hurrying to complete an important task, to go slowly. Conversation with the author, Seattle, c. 1986.


Other less private comparisons start with the fact that they are both glassblowers, and both understand that working with a team expands their technical abilities. By turning over the blowpipe to another glassblower and becoming less physically involved, they actually have more control over the creative process.


The “glassexperience,” a demonstration/performance at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion in 2010, was the first time Goodman had worked with a team of glassblowers to blow forms for him. It allowed him “to step back and watch the entire process instead of being immersed in it, and then focus on what we all can do together.” Artist’s statement, August 2011.


In 1979 when Chihuly dislocated a shoulder body surfing, making it impossible to work, he “turned over the stick” or blowpipe to William Morris and never looked back.


The analogy Chihuly has frequently used to describe the creative process is as a film director. “When I was a gaffer like Billy (Morris) is here today (glassblowing session, New York Experimental Glass Workshop, New York, 1983), I had much less control than I do now. . . . Sometimes I compare it to filmmaking. If I were the director, I wouldn’t need to be looking into the lens of the camera all the time. I would have the best cameraman and that would allow me to move in and around the set.” Karen S. Chambers, “Mission: Impossible,” Chihuly: A Decade of Glass (Bellevue, WA, Bellevue Art Museum, 1984), 13.


Goodman compares turning over the blowpipe to being a musical conductor, aptly since he is a singer and an accomplished musician, playing guitar, piano, ukulele, and drums. Conversation with author, Waynesville, OH, August 17, 2011.


2. William Morris has said, “You don’t control the glass, you just keep up with it.” Conversation with the author, New York, c. 1983.

3. Alchemy dates to Greco-Roman Egypt (332 BC to 642 AD). Its main objective was to create the mythical “philosopher’s stone” that would turn base metals into gold and also be an elixir of life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alchemy.


4. Goodman learned traditional Venetian techniques primarily from observing the American glassblower Dante Marioni in person and through videos. Marioni is known for his overscaled, perhaps mannerist, vessels done in a 20th-century version of the façon de Venise, which refers to work done in the Venetian style outside Venice, specifically in the 16th and 17th centuries. Marioni himself learned from Italian maestri including Lino Tagliapietro. Goodman has also spent time watching Tagliapietro as well as Davide Salvatore, another Venetian master. In 2008 he traveled to Murano, the island in the Venetian lagoon where the city’s glasshouses were relocated in 1292, to study the history of glass there. Conversation with the author, Waynesville, OH, August 17, 2011.


5. The murrini technique dates to first century B. C. Alexandria. The glassmaker bundles rods of colored glasses to create a design, the best known of which would be the millefiori or “thousand flowers” commonly used in paperweights. The design is heated and pulled out, making relatively long rods or canes and also reducing the size of the design. These are then sliced into buttons.

6. Vetro a reticello is a type of filigrana, a technique that produces lacy effects that was invented c. 1527-1549 in Venice. Vetro a reticello is characterized by its crisscrossing of two threads for a netlike pattern with tiny air bubbles between the threads. Harold Newman, An Illustrated Dictionary of Glass (London, Thames and Hudson, 1977), 115-116.

7. From Roman-era glassmaking, Goodman borrows the technique of “trailing” or “threading.” During the glassblowing process a thread of colored glass is attached to the bubble and by rotating the blowpipe, spirals around the form.

8. In these championship races run in Italy, Europe, and the U. S., all competitors, drive the same model car (Ferrari F430, 2007 to 2011), but modified for the Ferrari Challenge. In Europe and Italy there are two classes of competitors—professional and “gentleman” or amateurs—but only professional drivers race in the U. S. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrari_Challenge.

9. Goodman says that Aaron Betsky, director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, noted the important role that his demonstration of glassblowing during the studio visit by members of the 4th Floor group had played in their selection of him for the 4th Floor Award. Conversation with the author, Waynesville, OH, August 17, 2011.

10. Ibid.


11. http://darrengoodman.net/tearsas.htm.


12. Ibid.


13. Conversation with author, Waynesville, OH, studio, August 17, 2011.

14. It is impossible to avoid male and female sexual interpretations of Chihuly’s forms: condoms and the Greco-Roman deity Artemis of Ephesus. The goddess is depicted with multiple breasts, which represent fertility. They are part of her clothing not her body. http://www.philipharland.com/Blog/category/greco-roman-religions/gods-and-goddesses/.

15. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/eva_hesse.php?i=1702.

16. The entire Studio Glass Movement, of which Goodman is a part, might be considered Post-Minimalist. The goal of its pioneers in the early 1960s was to take glass out of the industrial setting with its mass production and division of labor between designers who conceived the designs and the craftsmen who executed their ideas. Instead they sought to create small studios where artists could express their aesthetic concepts and execute them themselves.


The Movement was “born” in 1962 when potter and son of the director of research at Corning Glass Works, Harvey Littleton, organized two workshops at the Toledo Museum of Art. His goal was to demonstrate that glass could be blown outside the factory. In Toledo the first attempts to melt glass in Littleton’s converted ceramic kiln failed, resulting in what he called a “goopy mess of golf balls.” Dominick Labino, vice president and director of research for Johns-Manville Fiber Glass Co., re-worked the makeshift furnace and supplied #475 fiberglass marbles that he had invented. They had a lower melting point and produced workable glass. Out of curiosity Harvey Leafgreen, a retired glassblower from the Libbey Division of Owens-Illinois, visited the workshop. He was asked to demonstrate glassblowing and share his expertise with participants since no one had more than a rudimentary understanding of the process.

17. For his floor sculptures, Carl Andre uses uniformly sized plates in steel, copper, and other metals, produced to his specifications in a factory. The plates, which are generally only ¼” thick, are arranged in grids or lines. Dan Flavin used commercially produced fluorescent light fixtures for his installation works. Donald Judd also turned to industry to fabricate his metal box-like sculptures and a master carpenter for his flawless plywood boxes.

18. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/eva_hesse.php?i=1702.


19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Hesse.





All photographs are courtesy of Darren Goodman.

1)      In 2009 Darren Goodman was commissioned by Ferrari North America to create a series of one-of-a-kind trophies for its Ferrari Challenge championship races. Using Ferrari’s signature color, the young glassblower made 175 Vetrobottles that can be as tall as 20”.

2)      From Roman-era glassmaking, Goodman borrowed decorative technique of “trailing” or “threading” for his Vetrobottles series. During the glassblowing process a thread of colored glass is attached to the bubble of glass and by rotating the blowpipe, spirals around the form.

3)      Goodman presenting a Ferrari Vetrobottle to a winning race driver.

4)      Fantasia Grouping # 17, blown glass, overall dimensions 16” x 60” x 13”.

5)      “Trial by Fire: New Glass Work by Darren Goodman” installation of Ferrari Vetrobottles in the background and Tears of Joy. The exhibition is on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum through January 1, 2012.

6)      Detail of Tears of Joy.

7)      The artist with mock-up of Tears of Joy installation.

8)      Goodman working in his Waynesville, Ohio, studio blowing Ferrari Vetrobottles.

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