Glassblowing can result in serious art -- but it can also be intensely performative, a fact that has helped to fuel its expansion as an art material over the past five decades. Just ask the demo team at The Corning Museum of Glass in New York State or, on the opposite coast, at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, where the amphitheater is regularly filled with museum visitors who want to witness the process of making. Few other art forms are as regularly paraded to the public as their final result is taking shape -- unfinished and hotly imperfect. The same theatricality that reliably fills the seats in Corning and Tacoma is being banked on to attract television viewers. A glass-blowing reality television show tentatively titled Blown Away is set to premiere in Spring 2019, and is seeking highly skilled glassblowers to audition for the first season.
A production of the Toronto-based global entertainment company Marblemedia, the co-production with Netflix and Blue Ant Media will see “a group of talented and creative artisans from all over North America compete over the course of the series in the highly skilled art of glass blowing. In each episode the glass blowers create a beautiful works of art, which are assessed by a panel of expert judges. One artisan is eliminated each week until a winner is announced in the final episode.” The winner “will receive a significant cash prize and be named the Blown Away champion.”
Marblemedia positions Blown Away as following in the tradition of popular shows like MasterChef, Iron Chef, Survivor, The Amazing Race, and Forged in Fire. And the show also has an art-world predecessor of sorts in Work of Art: The Next Great Artists, the daring (and controversial) art-world reality television show on Bravo, which started in 2010 and featured up-and-coming artists competing for a cash prize and a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Blown Away, however, seems shaping up to be more focused on craft and technique, placing glass-blowing among an array of showy crafts like cooking, bladesmithing (Forged in Fire), and fashion design (Project Runway).
Candidates “will spend up to 5 weeks in the competition” and be awarded an honorarium of $500 CAD per episode completed, according to the application website. Shooting for the show is to “take place in a unique state of the art location” in Canada, and transportation and hotel accommodation will be covered.
Applications are being accepted, and the call is open to all Canadians and Americans aged 19 years and older. Applicants must complete an online questionnaire ranging in tone from the critically thoughtful (“What is your process? How do you conceptualize your piece before you begin?”) to that of a Buzzfeed personality quiz (“How do your friends/loved ones describe your personality and character? How would your enemies describe your personality and character?”). The deadline for applications is Friday, August 10, 2018.
With its clear emphasis on technical skill, Blown Away may not exactly promote glass as a serious art form. But the show has the potential to stir up important dialogues about the relationships between art and performance, art and craft, and high and low art — or at least offer, if nothing else, studio time, material, and the opportunity for plain fun to the successful contestants.
As art critic Jerry Saltz wrote in an article for NY Magazine about his time as a judge on Work of Art: “The art world has a love-hate relationship with visibility, entertainment, and anything populist. It claims to be open but relentlessly polices its borders for anything as alien as this TV show was bound to be.” It remains to be seen if Blown Away will really blow anyone away, but perhaps it bears simply keeping an open mind towards.
As the application website asks: “Are you interested in a unique and challenging experience? Do you want to compete with some of North America's best glass blowers? Do you feel like you have excellent glass blowing skills and that you deserve the Blown Away title?”