Critics’ Picks

View of “Josiah McElheny: Observations at Night,” 2019.

View of “Josiah McElheny: Observations at Night,” 2019.

New York

Josiah McElheny

James Cohan | 48 Walker St
48 Walker Street
September 6–October 19, 2019

Let’s talk about infinity. For the inaugural exhibition at this gallery’s new TriBeCa space, Josiah McElheny approaches the depths of the eternal with pure curiosity. A triptych of his signature sculptures—immaculately formed glass vessels that the artist, an honest-to-god master of the material, makes himself—are sandwiched between mirrors and built into the wall, and look like displays housing a seemingly endless array of perfume bottles. The mirror facing the viewer is one-way, which creates a tromp l’oeil effect and leads the spectator into the well-wrought abyss.

The show’s centerpiece, Moon Mirror (all works 2019), is a large curved structure made from glass tiles in sundry shades of blue. It recalls Spencer Finch’s 9/11 Memorial Museum installation from 2014, which used thousands of paper sheets tinted with various blues (based on Finch’s memories of the cloudless sky from that deadly morning). McElheny’s sculpture is activated by its location beneath the space’s mammoth skylight, allowing it to become a luminous shield of variegated hues that change with the passing day’s light. The artist is also turning this structure into a communal site: It will function as the backdrop for free, twice-weekly performances throughout the run of his exhibition, featuring heavy hitters such as the Sun Ra Arkestra and the brilliant scholar-performer Fred Moten.

McElheny’s “Observation” series of objects, shown here for the first time, are inspired by drawings of the cosmos from hundreds of years ago. They are made with pieces of glass, modeled to resemble assorted nebulae, that have been snugly set into wooden boards—they feel like peepholes into the universe. Similar to Roni Horn (though with a very different touch), McElheny uses glass to evoke a kind of sci-fi sublime, without letting the material’s sleekness take away from the works’ humanity. These objects beg to be seen, transposing their curiosity onto us.