Sunday, 13 January 2013

Curiosity Shop #13

Cut Glass

Teetering precariously on the fragile precipice that edges fine and decorative art, Josiah McElheny’s sculptures are at that complex and controversial point where a definition seems to waver and perhaps even fall to the revine below. In the upstairs gallery in his current show at White Cube, Mason’s Yard he fills vitrines with jagged glass sculptures that showcase his skills as both fine craftsman and accomplished contemporary artist. 

 Josiah McElheny, The Space Age Body (after Cardin, Courrèges, and Gernreich), 2012

 Josiah McElheny, The Uniform Body (After Popova and Rodchenko), 2012

As an expert glassblower, trained under the tutelage of European masters, he has ability to create the most the delicate and feather light sculptures, beautifully decorative by sight yet  often connoting deeper, darker meanings. The reflective surface of glass, with its ability to let light through and in, does by no means allow the meaning to be less opaque. 

Blown from heated fire into works which look light as air, McElheny has mastered this incredibly hard skill, blowing threads of different coloured glass into each piece. The lined striations act like light refractions which appear to move and undulate as you walk around the sculpture.

By allowing the viewer to experience the sculptures differently from various angles, the human body becomes a key player in his works. The cabinets or vitrines are partly based on those that Carlo Scarpa designed to display plaster models (at 25% scale) of the human figure in the Museo Canova in Possagno, Italy, providing a contextual framework for which to view the glass forms. 
The idea of the body is interpretable from various historical and cultural stand-points. For McElheny, the modernist perspective is directly referenced as each cut-glass form is based on designs or templates by different twentieth century artists. The titles of his works make this explicit by providing an obvious cultural reference for which the viewer can interpret and view the works.

Interactions of the Abstract Body at White Cube, Mason's Yard

As his sculptures fit safely inside glass containers, do we really wish to try and define his work with such similar boxed parameters? Whether sculpture, craft, design or contemporary art, the most likely answer is perhaps proposed by the MacArthur Foundation, who gave  McElheny a grant in 2006, stating his style of creation is a “new, multifaceted form of contemporary art.” 

Interactions of the Abstract Body at White Cube, Mason's Yard until 12 January 2013.

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