Josiah McElheny’s artwork has often investigated the history of twentieth century modernism, in the hope of expanding on the dominant historical narrative. While continuing a dialogue with the history of aesthetics – for their political, ideological, and philosophical implications – Paintings, an exhibition of new work at Andrea Rosen Gallery, represents a shift in McElheny’s practice towards a focus on the history of painting, and proposes that there is ongoing potential to be found in the utopian and revolutionary desires that gave rise to abstract painting at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In 2007, as part of a curatorial collaboration at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, McElheny exhibited his work alongside the paintings of the “lost” pioneer of abstraction, Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), now finally credited with making the first non-objective painting in the Western fine-art tradition. The idea of how histories are and can be constantly re-written, has informed and inspired McElheny’s new works.
In looking at the history of abstraction, McElheny reimagines specific works by artists Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Maya Deren, Ellsworth Kelly, Ad Reinhardt and Albert Oehlen through the lens of the recently re-discovered visionary af Klint; her symbolic language appears in McElheny’s paintings, conceptually collaged into the compositional approaches of these other familiar historical and living artists. The smooth surface of McElheny’s works, each faced with a plane of glass, is something that one sees through, and beyond. Challenging the Modernist perspective that painting is defined by and bound to its surface, these paintings – constructions of wood, mirror, glass, paint and video projection – acknowledge the painting’s physical and imaginable space.
Across these Paintings, McElheny hopes to suggest the possibility of an expanded experience of viewing, a view of the images that exist within painting where the viewer’s own physical movement offers additional vistas, imaginary or not. In McElheny’s hands, mining the past lays the groundwork for a path forward, giving a glimpse not only into what could have been, but visions for what might be.
Josiah McElheny, Paintings Until October 24th, 2015 Andrea Rosen Gallery 525 West 24th Street, New York andrearosengallery.comAll images Courtesy of the Artist and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Ph. Ron Amstutz