Critics’ Picks

Josiah McElheny, Blue Italian Modernism and Yellow Czech Modernism, 2010, hand-blown glass objects with flashed color, extruded colored glass filters, LED electric lighting, painted wooden display structure, 65 x 21 x 18 3/4".

Josiah McElheny, Blue Italian Modernism and Yellow Czech Modernism, 2010, hand-blown glass objects with flashed color, extruded colored glass filters, LED electric lighting, painted wooden display structure, 65 x 21 x 18 3/4".

Chicago

Josiah McElheny

Donald Young Gallery
224 S Michigan Ave Suite 266
November 13, 2010–January 28, 2011

The history of modernism is given a healthy reappraisal whenever the work of Josiah McElheny is discussed, inviting the question from the uninitiated viewer: Which modernism? Sociologist Bruno Latour has argued that, in fact, “modernity has never begun,” and this is a sentiment with which McElheny’s recent project shares a degree of sympathy, in that the artist’s reinvestigation of the history of twentieth-century architecture and design reveals the potential of fallow schools of modernism. His current exhibition, titled “Crystalline Modernism,” gains particular resonance since it is sited in the middle of Chicago, a city that itself stands as something of a museum to the modernism of Mies van der Rohe. If McElheny’s previous works such as Landscape Model for Total Reflective Abstraction (I), 2004, and Adolf Loos’ Ornament and Crime, 2002, suggested the dark side of infinite visibility and homogeneity, then his latest effort mines a vein of modernism that was not invested in the grid and purity, but rather offered a vision of plurality and varied geometry.

The freestanding sculpture Crystalline Landscape after Hablik and Luckhardt I, 2010, uses mirrored glass to envisage a world where this alternative modernism has proliferated ad infinitum. Overall, color sets the tenor of the exhibition, especially in the wall-mounted light-box sculptures that cause the glass objects housed within to seemingly flicker in and out of existence. The intensely saturated primary colors of the light boxes point to lesser-known facets of modernism such as Czech glass design, whose adherents found glass to be an ideal medium for exploring abstraction without arousing the suspicions of the cold war–era censors; these artists thus managed to undertake aesthetic experiments that were otherwise impossible under the country’s Communist regime. In McElheny’s artist’s book The Light Club, 2010, there is a passage by critic George Hecht describing the work of Paul Scheerbart (one of McElheny’s interlocutors) as requiring “the art of slow reading.” “Crystalline Modernism” may not require slow reading, but visitors who take the time to observe this work closely will be generously rewarded.