Josiah McElheny’s “Island Universe.”

On the face of it, Bob Dylan’s surreal, sardonic, incendiary poetry has little in common with artist Josiah McElheny’s professorial aesthetic – a sensibility that traffics in science, self-consciousness, and shiny surfaces.

McElheny makes art deliberately, methodically, and critically.

But Dylan cries out for quotation on many occasions, I find. And McElheny’s compelling show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, “Some Pictures of the Infinite,” just happens to be one of them.

“Inside the museums,” sang Dylan in “Visions of Johanna,” a twangy, portent-filled song from the great 1966 album “Blonde on Blonde,” “infinity goes up on trial.”

The same verse goes on, of course, to give us the unforgettable images of Mona Lisa with the highway blues (“you can tell by the way she smiles”) and – in a climax of inspired rhymes – a jelly-faced woman with a mustache saying, “Jeez I can’t find my knees.”

But it’s that notion of museums putting infinity on trial – staking their own claims on timelessness, insulating their contents from the endlessness of the outside world – that lingers in the puzzled mind, and which seems so apposite to McElheny’s “Some Pictures of the Infinite.”

It’s a show, after all, about infinity. It’s also about museums, mirrors, modernism, multiverses, revolution, the Big Bang, and much more.

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Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe

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