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McElheny’s work cannily navigates the categories of art, craft, and design.  Over the course of his career, he has engaged in an ongoing conversation with modernity. The artist’s interest in, and conceptual manipulation of, critically under-represented areas of (such as fashion) is key to his achievement along with his technical abilities.  This talk is a case study of ambition, specifically, the concepts and strategies that one artist used to achieve success beyond the glass community.

Josiah McElheny received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and then spent several years as an apprentice to three glass masters; he learned from both Swedish and Italian forms and processes.  His acquisition of technical skills was then paired with a strong intellectual curiosity.  McElheny has broad tastes—he draws inspiration from a broad range of productions, both within the glass world (e.g., the designs of Carlo Scarpa) and outside of it (e.g., the ideas of Buckminster Fuller); from visual sources (e.g., the forms of Isamu Noguchi) and literary figures (e.g., the poems of Louis Jorge Borges).  


Throughout his career, MeElheny has playfully engaged with little known or even fictional histories.  Early work such as Verzelini’s Acts of Faith from 1996 involved creating a large cabinet of glass pieces (drawn from various Renaissance paintings on the life of Christ) that was accompanied by an entirely fictional narrative.  From there he relentlessly began investigating the hidden and little-known histories of Modernism.  From Adolf Loos and Bruno Taut, McElheny cast his eye onto early 20th c. utopian vision; from Christian Dior and Carlo Scarpa, the glass artist examines mid-century design. McElheny continually questions what glass does and how it does it; he speculates on display and spectatorship, design and commodity.

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