For over two decades Josiah McElheny has closely observed the history of modernist aesthetics and ideas. McElheny investigates and visualizes these concepts through a vigorously researched oeuvre. Often combining glass with other materials, McElheny creates sculptures and installations but also performances, films, projections, and curatorial and writing projects.
McElheny’s concerns with the alternate potentials of modernism invite vastly-ranging topics of study and artistic subjects, spanning from astronomical cosmology to re-exposing and re-contextualizing under-appreciated artists and schools of thought, including the visionary abstraction of Hilma af Klint, the early twentieth-century writing of Paul Scheerbart, and the crystalline sculptural paintings of Robert Smithson. Combining these seemingly disparate sources, McElheny develops hybrid narratives that lucidly imagine divergent pasts.
McElheny effortlessly integrates the theoretical bent of his work with a commitment to materiality that pervades all elements of his practice, from sculptures to community-based performances. McElheny has used glass throughout his career for its conceptual and perceptual properties. Glass, for McElheny, embodied by its qualities of reflectivity, transparency, and fluid mutability, highlights the interactive potential between the object and viewer that is always a central concern of his artmaking. As McElheny has stated, "If 'the reflective' can be described as a medium, it is one in which the viewer becomes the author, because without the viewer it is impossible to discern the something, or even the nothing, that is there." However, discussions about his work should not be restricted to medium-specific terms. Materiality functions as a far more dynamic and productive agent, positing unexpected connections between sources of art, architecture, literature, and ideas, and permitting them to exist together in one experiential frame.
Josiah McElheny (b. 1966, Boston, MA) has exhibited widely, including solo shows at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, CA (2019); Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, TX (2018); MAK Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna, Austria (2016); Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus (2013), Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2012), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2011), Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2009), Moderna Museet, Stockholm and Museum of Modern Art, New York (2007), Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (2002), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2001), The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (1999) and the Seattle Art Museum (1995). His work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; and Tate Modern, London, UK among others. McElheny lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.