Critics’ Picks

The Last Scattering Surface, 2006.

The Last Scattering Surface, 2006.


Josiah McElheny

Donald Young Gallery
224 S Michigan Ave Suite 266
September 29–December 2, 2006

Encompassing industrial design, art, and ultimately, cosmology, Josiah McElheny here indexes a parallel in 1965 between a critical moment in the development of the theory of the Big Bang and the history of high-modern design. An exquisite, low-hanging aluminum and glass chandelier titled The Last Scattering Surface, 2006, occupies the center of the gallery and is based on the those fabricated for the Metropolitan Opera House in 1965. Its title refers to the moment, also discovered that year, when light particles within the early cosmos broke free from physical matter and scattered throughout space. What it depicts appears to be an atom exploding with near-perfect symmetry. McElheny’s first film, Conceptual Drawings for a Chandelier, 1965, 2005, is also on view and presents a slow-paced montage of footage shot at the Metropolitan Opera House and animations based on geometries from its lighting array. Also within the film, individual orbs of the Met’s galactic-looking chandeliers gently descend from the ceiling of the hall, reiterating the hovering position of McElheny’s sculpture within the gallery. Twelve digital C-prints, organized in vertical pairs, further reinforce design and pictorial motifs within both the film and the sculpture and provide the exhibition with a closed-circuit logic. Although the show, titled “Cosmology, Design, Landscape—Part One,” presents a hermetic realization of mathematics and cosmology made concrete, it also swiftly situates Western scientific progress within a posthistorical cultural framework. In the conflation of the instant just after the cosmos emerged from what cosmologists call “singularity”—or the universe as a single point with infinite density and zero volume—and the moment in the ‘60s when modern teleology fractured to become multiple trajectories, histories, and ways of working within art, we find McElheny’s most succinct and eloquent description of our moment.