Take one spoonful of mid-century modern, mix in a healthy dose of multiverse theory, add a soupçon of algorithms and finish it all off with man's triumph over wood and you've got an out-of-this-world spring show over at Rice University's Moody Center for the Arts.
Josiah McElheny's Island Universe gives a nod to the past while looking to the cosmos. His quintet of chromed metal and glass sculptures were modeled on the iconic mid-century Austrian crystal chandeliers at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, but there's nothing retro about this hanging installation.
"His work is inspired by the Big Bang Theory. He set out as an artist to visually depict the origin of the universe," says Alison Weaver, Moody's Suzanne Deal Booth executive director. "He set out to figure out, 'How do you depict the origin of the universe?'"
Weaver labels McElheny a "very smart guy," but it's still a monumental challenge for a layperson. The artist worked with a scientist for five years, an expert on the derivation of the Big Bang Theory, and the resulting piece draws inspiration from the multiverse scenario of eternal inflation. It also circles back more than 50 years, to the time when the Metropolitan Opera House first opened with its starburst chandeliers, the race for space was heating up, and we began to really embrace the theory about how it all began 13.8 billion years ago.
"It's gorgeous," says Weaver, adding that Island Universe is a result of the intersection between art, science and humanity.
McElheny's companion film, Conceptual drawings for a chandelier, 1965, also is being shown along with the exhibit. There's nothing random about the placement of his hanging sculptures; they are all precisely measured and positioned according to the history of time. Those wanting to explore the subject are invited to attend a free lecture and performance during the Campbell Lecture Series, March 20-22.
Also on view at the Moody Center for the Arts is a new piece by Leo Villareal, whom many know from his 2010 piece, Radiant Pathway, which features 92 light tubes that are constantly changing color over at the BioScience Research Collaborative. His newest piece created last year, Particle Chamber, is making its regional premiere here in Houston.
"It’s based on algorithms that were developed by students and scientists that work in that building," says Weaver. "He’s now working with the digital algorithms to compose the images of granular pixels that constantly move in groups. They disperse and come together to form a very dynamic experience. These points of light, they are sort of celestial and atmospheric, very different from Radiant Pathway."
Weaver says she saw the piece's debut at Pace Gallery in New York City and labels it provocative and suggestive without being didactic. "It has a chance to really spur a lot of conversation about things like the environment, space, the individuals’s relationship to the natural world; topics that are very timely in our culture at the moment," says Weaver. "We’re interested in both process and presentation; he’ll be coming and giving a talk at the Moody on April 6. We want to continue to get to know him."
Rounding out the spring show is a very meta installation, Pile the Wood High!, featuring works by a trio of artists who have an unusual connection. California sculptor Hirsch Perlman taught Rice Professor Lisa Lapinski at his ArtCenter College of Design in the 1990s; Lapinski in turn once taught student Anna Helm at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
As a result, three generations of artists are represented in the exhibit, which also includes sculpture, drawing and collage organized by Lapinski. Perlman's wooden figures are abstract as they gather in communion, while one of Lapinski's pieces wraps around the wall in an embrace. "There are a lot of things about the body and absence. And the absence of the bodies around the picnic table," says Weaver.
"The picnic table is a bit unusual. It has a gingham tablecloth — quite standard — then you realize that there are raised blocks of an oddly spelled word that raise up," says Weaver.
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There's an opening reception for the spring shows on February 2 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Island Universe by Josiah McElheny opens February 2 and runs through June 2, Brown Foundation Gallery, Moody Center for the Arts, 6100 Main, 713-348-2787, moody.rice.edu, free.
Particle Chamber by Leo Villareal opens February 2 and runs through December 31, Media Arts Gallery, Moody Center for the Arts, 6100 Main, 713-348-2787, moody.rice.edu, free.
Pile the Wood High! opens February 2 and runs through May 19, Central Gallery, Moody Center for the Arts, 6100 Main, 713-348-2787, moody.rice.edu, free.