The Secret Life of Glass

Furthering its goals to celebrate boundary-pushing artists and designers while offering diverse programming, The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG)—the foremost authority on the art, history, and science of glass—commissioned artist Spencer Finch (James Cohan Gallery) to create the large 14.5′ x 25.75′ kilnformed window wall artwork, The Secret Life of Glass. This artwork is located at the museum in Corning, NY, just inside the large glass curtain wall of CMoG’s West Bridge that links its Contemporary Art + Design Wing and its Innovation Center. For this artwork, his first in kilnformed (fused) glass, Finch selected Bullseye Studio as his fabricator.

I’ve aimed to create a piece, my first working with molten glass, that complements the visitor experience, encouraging viewers to pause and take time to reflect on the material, which constitutes all the works in the museum’s galleries.” – Spencer Finch

Finch, known for light and glass installations that visualize experiences of natural phenomena while exploring the beauty and complexity of everyday moments, studied digital temperature readings of the site’s existing float glass curtain wall and investigated the clear glass’s experience of heat at a specific moment in time. In the words of Karol Wight, President and Executive Director of CMoG, The Secret Life of Glass “embodies once again Finch’s artistic interest in science and in using the material of glass to reveal the unseen.” 

During his investigations, Finch discovered a wave pattern in the readings. He then transformed that data and its pattern into representational imagery, assigning colors to the eight primary temperature ranges he observed. Inspired by Matisse’s Sennelier palette, Finch sought colors rarely experienced in ordinary life.

“With this work,” explained Finch, “I am using the decorative elements of glass to describe the technical aspects and physical properties of the material. By considering the transparency of glass, one of its most basic characteristics, and the ways transparency masks a complex interaction with the environment, I am trying to engage and celebrate the complexity of the material as well as the wonder of human perception.”

To fabricate this challenging work, Bullseye Studio employed the expertise of the Bullseye Glass Co. factory by requesting specially-sized large sheets of clear glass and custom-formulated violet glass. In addition to these custom glasses, Finch’s artwork called for the incorporation of many “striker” glasses (glasses which don’t yield their true color until fired in the kiln) and reactive glasses that incite various effects when fused together. Bullseye Studio worked closely with Finch to orchestrate this complex array of kilnformed glass into a successful translation of his vision. “Translating the concepts for The Secret Life of Glass into kilnformed glass is an honor,” shared Bullseye Studio Project Manager, Tom Jacobs. “As fabricators for Spencer Finch and his team, we are proud to provide custom solutions to the technical challenges posed by this site-specific installation.”

The finished artwork consists of sixteen kilnformed and laminated colored glass panels, 41” tall and varying in width from 64” to 88”, held in a framework adjacent to, and equal to the scale of, the clear glass curtain wall whose ‘secret life’ the artwork reveals. In addition to fabricating the glass artwork through kilnforming processes, Bullseye Studio conducted all required testing (including impact and thermal testing), designed and engineered the artwork’s aluminum support frame, and provided installation consultation.

Of particular technical note: when viewed head-on at center, the vertical mullions of the artwork’s support frame align with the vertical mullions of the curtain wall, even though the two glass planes are not parallel but at an angle to one another. Achieving this technically challenging visual alignment required customization to each panel’s width. And although it can only be discovered from a single “secret spot,” this visual harmony represents and reinforces the artwork’s intimately resonant relationship with its environment.

The Secret Life of Glass has become one of my favorite pieces in our collection. Encountering it in the late afternoon can be a soul-lifting experience—exactly what a beautiful work of art can be in our lives.” – Karol Wight, President and Executive Director of CMoG

ANSI testing a Finch panel with a 100 lb wrecking ball striking at an officially-prescribed speed.