Josiah McElheny (b. 1966)
Conceptual Drawings for a Chandelier, 1965 (2005)
Josiah McElheny combines his skills as an expert glassblower, which he honed for many years under the tutelage of European masters, with a playful approach to both the history of his medium and the history of ideas. His objects and installations, often based around historical events, seek to fuse materiality and thought in the experience of looking.
In his early work, such as The Only Known Grave of a Glassblower (1994), McElheny explored specific moments in the history of glass. In recent years, however, he has embarked on a concentrated look into the legacy of modernity. A series of works about a conversation between Isamu Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller, during which they discussed a reflective sculpture in a reflective space, which would therefore cast no shadows and be totally self-enclosed, examines the possibility of realising a perfectly formed utopian environment. One work in this series, Architectural Model for Totally Reflective Landscape (Park) (2006) combines graceful, organic forms that reflect each other and their immediate space in a seemingly endless range of stretched and disoriented depictions of the environment. McElheny aims to explore how “the act of looking at a reflective object could be connected to the mental act of reflecting on an idea”. An End to Modernity (2005), which was worked out with the cosmologist David Weinberg, is at once a play on the designs of the chandeliers in New York’s Metropolitan Opera house and an expressive diagram of the big bang. “The whole project”, writes McElheny, “exists at the intersection of specific concepts and abstract ones”.