Josiah McElheny at The Arts Club of Chicago

September 17 - December 14, 2013

The Arts Club of Chicago is pleased to announce Josiah McElheny: Two Clubs at The Arts Club of Chicago (17 September - 14 December 2013). A sculptor and filmmaker known for his interrogation of glass as a material and paradigm in art, McElheny has conceived this exhibition in collaboration with Chicago architect John Vinci, who designed The Arts Club’s current building. Engaging with the history and mission of The Arts Club itself, the two-part installation will bring together McElheny’s film The Light Club of Vizcaya: A Women's Picture (2012) and a new site-specific installation titled The Club for Modern Fashions (2013), a constructed glass pavilion into which performers and guests are invited during the lunch hour, Tuesdays through Fridays, dressed in vintage attire from the 1920s to the 1970s—decades that signify the height of a modernist imperative across the cultures of fashion, design, and architecture. A public gallery talk with art historian Christine Mehring and Josiah McElheny will take place on Saturday 21 September at 1:00 pm.

The Light Club of Vizcaya, realized as a commission by the Contemporary Arts Project at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, continues McElheny’s exploration into alternative histories of modernism and the possibilities (and failures) of utopian thought. Filmed on location at Vizcaya, Chicago machinery magnate James Deering’s infamous Miami estate, the film reimagines a little known text by early 20th century German author Paul Scheerbart The Light Club of Batavia: A Ladies’ Novelette (1912).  This strange, visionary satire describes a dinner at which a wealthy heiress and an architect decide to create a secret club for ‘bathing’ in electric light at the bottom of a mineshaft. McElheny’s version, with voiceover by Zoe Leonard, subtly combines Scheerbart’s fiction with the real history of Vizcaya, recounting a tale in which the narrator searches for a lost light club where members indulged in the benefits of colored light beneath the gardens of the grand estate.
McElheny’s The Club for Modern Fashions —a transparent room constructed in glass and furnished in mid-twentieth-century style—echoes The Arts Club’s history, as well as that of its modernist form. Like Vizcaya and its fictionalized “Light Club,” The Arts Club was founded in 1916 to provide a space for the appreciation of the new. Former Arts Club President Rue Winterbotham Shaw retained the services of legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to design the Club’s rooms at 109 East Ontario Street, and Mies delivered an elegant yet advanced interior in 1951. The spirit of that space, demolished in the 1990s, has been retained by Mies’s student John Vinci in the Arts Club’s current building, which preserves Mies’ “floating” staircase at its heart. Nodding both to The Arts Club’s history and to Mies’s historic pavilion architecture, McElheny’s temporary glass room will become both a home and a frame for a renewed display of modernist style.

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