Josiah McElheny

  • Rosa Barba, From Source to Poem, 2016, 35 mm, color, sound, 12 minutes.

    Rosa Barba

    As those who have thoroughly embraced the cinematic experience in a theater can attest, a film can seem to have its own time, and somehow, somewhere, that time continues forever, even without us. Over the past twenty years, several of Rosa Barba’s film-projection installations have expanded on a Borgesian question of how we might be able to see time’s essential infinitude. Along the way, Barba has discovered various methods for reconstructing cinematic time within the sculptural realm. To do this, the artist often utilizes her own documentary footage, embedded within large spatial constructions.

  • Milford Graves, Bikongo-Ifá: Spirit of the Being, 2020, wood, tabla, acupuncture model, Batá drum, Nkondi figure, George Washington Carver bust, compass, glass, peanuts, LabVIEW animation, monitors, bells, plasma, lamp, globe, eagle figurine, alarm clock, collaged paper, printouts, copper wire, paint marker, metal fasteners, casters, dimensions variable.

    Milford Graves

    That Milford Graves (1941–2021) was one of the most mesmerizing, energizing, and vibratory percussionists of our era was already evident in 1965, the year of his first recorded appearance on the New York Art Quartet’s debut album. For the next five decades, musicians would pilgrimage to witness Graves’s unique physical approach to the trap set, his elbows in a reverse-akimbo position. Word of mouth brought the uninitiated to experience his transporting ability to sustain two rhythms or more at the same time—to play in polymeter. What has taken longer to be fully absorbed, however, are the results


    Fortunately, our modernist sculptural legacy does not consist only of huge chunks of metal pressing weightily against the earth. We also have the great artist of floating worlds, Ruth Asawa (1926–2013), to look to, whose biomorphic and figurative forms, often made of intricately intertwined wire hovering at eye level, trade the material and metaphoric opacity of iron, bronze, and steel for translucent architectures and spatial mapping. The Pulitzer attempts a major reassessment of Asawa’s career, featuring roughly eighty works of sculpture and drawing that include

  • View of “Jason Moran,” 2016. From left: STAGED: Savoy Ballroom 1, 2015; The Temple (for Terry Adkins), 2016; Basin Street Run 1, 2016; Basin Street Run 2, 2016; STAGED: Three Deuces, 2015. Photo: Farzad Owrang.

    Jason Moran

    As many a musician or barback can tell you, a live-music nightclub—sadly, today they call them venues—is a strange place during off-hours, whether that is 3 PM or 3 AM. Unlike a theater or cinema, which might play to an audience of one, a nightclub requires people; early in the day and very late at night, the nightclub uniquely evokes simultaneous feelings of loss and potential. In “STAGED,” Jason Moran—the visionary musician, composer, impresario, and visual artist—set two architecturally scaled sculptures kitty-corner to each other, each a reimagined version of the main

  • Ellsworth Kelly, Window, Museum of Modern Art, Paris, 1949, oil on two joined panels of wood and canvas, 50 1/2 x 19 1/2". Photo: Hula Kolabas, courtesy of Ellsworth Kelly Archives.
    passages April 27, 2016

    Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015)

    CERTAIN ARTISTS TEACH. Every time I encounter a painting by Ellsworth Kelly, I learn this lesson again: A painting is not just an image, or even an object; it can also be a kind of architecture. I’ve always felt a compulsion to look closely at the edges of Kelly’s paintings, carefully examining the various ways in which he continues the painting beyond its front edge. Each time I lean into a wall in an attempt to look behind one of his works, I am left with the sense that even though I can see the way he has built the painting, I still do not fully understand how it is that the painting appears

  • the Best of 2015


    Silicone snake, West 42nd and Broadway, New York, July 29, 2015.

    This picture was taken along the waterfront in San Francisco’s Mission Bay area. This area is extremely scenic, with old battleships and boats. I go there frequently to walk my dog, relax, and enjoy the fantastic views. The pier is used to store various components for seasonal parades or events. This grouping of floats for the Pride

  • Jeff Koons, Lifeboat, 1985, bronze, 12 × 80 × 60". From the series “Equilibrium,” 1983–93.

    Josiah McElheny


    JEFF KOONS is like Alfred Hitchcock. Deeply invested in entertaining us with their personal obsessions, both the filmmaker and the artist have gone to great lengths to produce visual gratification. But underneath such diversions lies an unconscious desire for control—and an ocean of fear, the real subject of their art. Koonsian dread often arrives in sculptures depicting objects in uncanny likeness, transforming recognizably cheap, everyday things into metaphors about anxiety and death. Stuff that should disintegrate, or at least deflate, becomes fixed in time, not unlike the faces

  • Devo, University of Illinois, Chicago, October 16, 1981. From left: Jerry Casale, Bob Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, Alan Myers. Photo: Paul Natkin.

    “Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia"

    Every band I have ever known has had at least one artist in its entourage; somebody has to make the posters and the album covers. For Devo, an absurdist punk-rock band formed in 1972 whose members were influenced by the aesthetics of Russian Futurism, just about everyone in the group was an artist—including Mark Mothersbaugh. The artist’s first retrospective shows us—with works dating from the 1960s to the present, including photocollages, kinetic musical sculptures, 30,000 underground-comics-style works on paper, and even a double-ended car—that Mothersbaugh

  • Carlo Scarpa, Gipsoteca, Museo Canova, 1955–57, Possagno, Italy. Photo: Peter Guthrie/Flickr.

    Josiah McElheny

    IN 2011, a modest space in Venice designed by the celebrated architect Carlo Scarpa was designated a public monument and museum. It was an unlikely candidate for elevation to canonical status: A street-level commercial showroom on San Marco Square, commissioned by the Italian manufacturer Olivetti in 1957, the space was filled with typewriters displayed on an assortment of custom pedestals, stairs, cantilevers, shelves, niches, and floating planes. With its lyrical square window peeking out onto a side street and an elegant storefront, displaying just three perfectly curvilinear machines, the

  • Oscar Niemeyer, Canoas House, 1952, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Leonardo Finotti.

    Oscar Niemeyer


    There is no form without politics, just as there is no form without context; one finds the politics in the way form is embedded in its context.
    —Martin Beck

    SINCE THE END OF THE GERMAN REVOLUTION IN 1923—the failure of which led Walter Gropius and many of the artists and architects of the former Berlin “Art Soviet” to renounce their dreams of an activist leftist aesthetic—it has been commonplace for modernist architects to carefully distance themselves from political identification. Perhaps this deliberate severing of modern architecture from its origins as a visionary

  • Hilma Af Klint, The Ten Largest, 1907, oil and tempura on paper, XXX.

    “Hilma Af Klint: A Pioneer of Abstraction”

    A few of us may still remember the 1989 exhibition “Secret Pictures by Hilma af Klint” at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; the title is still apt. Much of the artist’s work has been carefully kept as a kind of time capsule by her family’s foundation, unseen in more than eight decades. Now, with this essential retrospective—the culmination of Müller-Westermann’s multiyear research into the artist’s work—we can finally embrace the truth: Af Klint invented geometric abstract painting, just preceding Kandinsky and Malevich. Some might ascribe her

  • Josef Albers's Interaction of Color

    Josef Albers, Interaction of Color: New Complete Edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). 269 pages, 2 vols.

    THE LAVISH NEW EDITION of Josef Albers’s Interaction of Color, first published in 1963, arrives in two cloth-covered volumes of blue and green (or, some might say, green and yellow). They contain a poetic, lilting text that is studded with aphorisms and plates of mostly abstract images—color experiments accompanied by instructions on how to understand the effects that they demonstrate. Together, the tomes meticulously reconstruct the core elements of Albers’s famous color course,