'Interactions of the Abstract Body' by Josiah McElheny, London

American artist Josiah McElheny's animated sculptures at White Cube.
American artist Josiah McElheny's animated sculptures at White Cube courtesy of White Cube
(Image credit: Hugo Glendinning)

t’s hard not to catch your reflection at the current exhibition on show at the White Cube Gallery (opens in new tab) in Mason’s Yard. Dancers from London’s Trinity Laban (opens in new tab)’s dance school pace around the space wearing mirrored shapes - ovals, triangles, circles and squares. These eight ’animated sculptures’ are the work of American artist Josiah McElheny (opens in new tab) and bring to life his supremely abstracted interpretations of the human body.

McElheny has been exploring the body for more than 20 years, examining how fashion and modernism have intersected and influenced it. For this show, entitled Interactions of the Abstract Body, he also created a series glass wall-mounted reliefs based on dress designs by the late artists Sonia Delaunay (opens in new tab) and Varvara Stepanova (opens in new tab).  

Upstairs, he turns his skill for abstraction to glass-blown sculptures. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design (opens in new tab) in 1988, McElheny apprenticed under master blowers in Sweden, Murano and Bohemia.
Seven elegant vitrines, (based on those designed by Carlo Scarpa (opens in new tab) for Italy’s Canova Museum (opens in new tab)), contain striped, hand blown pieces that appear to change shape as you move around them. ’The Altered Body’ is a group of sculptures inspired by designs of Hussein Chalayan (opens in new tab)Alexander McQueen (opens in new tab) and Man Ray (opens in new tab). ’The Architectural Body’ is a collection after Pierre Cardin (opens in new tab).

’I am interested in modernism and those utopian moments that seeped into popular culture,’ says McElheny, who has a studio in Brooklyn. He has visited all the most secretive glass workshops across the world and cites Adolf Loos (opens in new tab) and his work for Czech glass manufacturer Lobmeyr (opens in new tab) in the 1930s as a seminal moment in glass art history.

This is the first time live performers have been part of an exhibition at Mason’s Yard. By incorporating the dancers, who have been carefully choreographed, McElheny alludes to the wild parties of the Bauhaus, and reminds us that Modernism had its fun side too.

Live performers have been part of an exhibition at Mason's Yard.

This is the first time live performers have been part of an exhibition at Mason's Yard. By incorporating the dancers, who have been carefully choreographed, McElheny alludes to the wild parties of the Bauhaus. courtesy of White Cube

(Image credit: Hugo Glendinning)

Wooden art with glass finish.

When not being worn, the artworks are displayed on wooden plinths. Pictured is 'Interactive Abstract Body (Split Triangle)', 2012. courtesy of White Cube.

(Image credit: Ben Westoby)

McElheny has also turned his skill for abstraction to glass-blown sculptures.

McElheny has also turned his skill for abstraction to glass-blown sculptures, such as 'The Space Age Body (after Cardin, Courrèges and Gernreich)', 2012. Displayed in elegant vitrines (based on those designed by Carlo Scarpa for Italy's Canova Museum), the pieces appear to change shape as you move around them. courtesy of White Cube.

(Image credit: Ben Westoby)

The Altered Body (after Chalayan, McQueen and Man Ray), 2012, and 'Interactive Abstract Body (Circle).

The Altered Body (after Chalayan, McQueen and Man Ray), 2012, and 'Interactive Abstract Body (Circle)'.  courtesy of White Cube.

(Image credit: Ben Westoby)

Interactive Abstract Body (Ellipse), 2012.

Interactive Abstract Body (Ellipse), 2012. courtesy of White Cube

(Image credit: Ben Westoby)

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Emma O'Kelly is a contributing editor at Wallpaper*. She joined the magazine on issue 4 as news editor and since since then has worked in full and part time roles across many editorial departments. She is a freelance journalist based in London and works for a range of titles from Condé Nast Traveller to The Telegraph. She is currently working on a book about Scandinavian sauna culture and is renovating a mid century house in the Italian Lakes.