Magazine article Artforum International

Josiah McElheny; Moderna Museet

Magazine article Artforum International

Josiah McElheny; Moderna Museet

Article excerpt

The crafts should perhaps be thought of as the work of "citizen artisans" who manipulate clay, metal, thread, or glass with consummate skill to create exceptional objects out of common materials. The hard-worn distinction between fine-art elitism and craft's populism is still taken for granted, but these terms are becoming confounded as crafts edge toward fine arts either out of strategy or desire. While artists pluck techniques from the crafts as necessary, craft practitioners have begun to interleave content from outside their normal purview, sometimes with beguiling results, as in the work of Josiah McElheny.

Education in the crafts frequently consists of mastering bedrock techniques through an apprenticeship in which a practitioner rises from deferential tyro to creative master. McElheny, trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, apprenticed from 1989 to 1997 with master glassblowers Ronald Wilkins, Lino Tagliapietra, Jan-Erik Ritzman, and Sven-Ake Carlsson. He merged the decorative with fine arts in Verzelini's Acts of Faith, 1996, a collection of thirty-six pieces of glassware based on those glimpsed in various Renaissance paintings of the Life of Christ, from Tintoretto to Joos van Cleve, demonstrating that the means, glassblowing, was relevant to the end, appropriation strategy. A decade on, he has produced The Alpine Catbedral and, the. City-Crown, 2007, where the sync between means and ends does not simply serve the content but is the content. In The Apine Cathedral, McElheny interprets the Utopian imagineering of German Modernist architect Bruno Taut (1880-1938) and poet Paul Scheerbart (1863-1915), visionaries who believed that kaleidoscopic light, produced through the materiality of glass, radiated spiritual powers of an order that would restore humanity--stimulation never more needed than on the eve of the Great War. …

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