For Projects 84, Josiah McElheny (American, b. 1966) creates a large-scale sculptural model of crystalline glass, colored electric lights, metal, and painted wood. His installation is both a materialization of and meditation on the visionary writings and sketches of Paul Scheerbart, a Berlin novelist and utopian fabulist, and Bruno Taut, the leader of a circle of revolutionary architects that emerged in Germany after World War I. Scheerbart and Taut envisioned a brave new world of illuminated, colored glass architecture rising out of the ashes of war-ravaged Europe. “It would be as if the earth were adorned with sparkling jewels and enamels,” Scheerbart wrote, “…as splendid as in the gardens of the Arabian Nights.” McElheny evokes this sublime glass utopia, with its ideals of spiritual fulfillment and social amelioration, in his model-scale landscape of two abstract, crystalline structures, Alpine Cathedral and City-Crown, composed of hollow glass modules whose varied prismatic forms are roughhewn and handcrafted. Though Scheerbart and Taut’s utopian visions could never be realized—any more than McElheny’s conceptual model could—they nonetheless represent a neglected aspect of twentieth-century modernism, a dream of the unreal.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film.