Island Universe

Yesterday A (not her real initial) and I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art, where we took a brief walk through Josiah McElheny’s current exhibit, Some Pictures of the Infinite. Longtime readers of Hoarded Ordinaries might remember McElheny’s Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism, a piece at the Museum of Fine Arts which I’ve photographed frequently and blogged repeatedly. Based on my fondness for McElheny’s MFA piece, I was eager to see how his ICA exhibit held up to my expectations.

Island Universe

Walking through an art exhibit when you have only a limited amount of time is actually an interesting exercise in discernment and discrimination. A and I arrived at the ICA about an hour before closing, and my sprained foot was already beginning to fatigue from our previous wanderings. Because we didn’t have endless time to explore McElheny’s endless infinities, we had to choose which works to linger over and which to politely limp past.

I could have gazed infinitely on McElheny’s Collection of Glass Concerning the Search for Infinity, an assortment of hand-blown glass plates, each of which was etched with fine, spiraling lines that called to mind a child’s Spirograph toy. I was similarly captivated by the intricate detail of Drawings and Photographs for a Chandelier, which juxtaposes photographs of constellation-like bursts of light with geometric line drawings. But Czech Modernism Mirrored and Reflected Infinitely and Scale Model for a Totally Reflective Landscape, both of which closely mirror (pun intended) the shiny, reflective surfaces of McElheny’s MFA piece, left me underwhelmed. I’d like to think there is more to McElheny than simple shiny surfaces, so my immediate response to both of these installations was a resigned “Been there, done that.”

Island Universe

Luckily, Island Universe exceeded expectations. At first glance, the piece is deceptively simple, just a half-dozen modern-style chandeliers hanging at varying heights in a large, airy gallery. Once you start walking among these hanging pieces, however, you realize how intriguing they are, calling to mind spinning galaxies of stars circling shiny suns or equally intricate atomic structures with sparking-bright electrons orbiting densely reflective nuclei.

In its own spare, modernist way, Island Universe reminded me of the floral excesses of Dale Chihuly’s glass chandeliers (or, more accurately, the enchanting experience of wandering through a roomful of them). The piece also called to mind the frozen explosions of Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune, an installation of which I’d seen at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (and subsequently blogged) in 2005. Galaxies, atoms, and exploding cars are all bright and sparking things: you don’t need infinite hours to appreciate them, just the flash of an appreciative eye.

Click here for a photo set from Josiah McElheny’s “Island Universe. Enjoy!