Campbell Lecture Series March 20-22 to feature MacArthur Fellow artist Josiah McElheny

Josiah McElheny, a sculptor and glassblower whose work examines everything from Utopian literature to the intersection of the Big Bang Theory and modernist design, will headline the School of Humanities’ Campbell Lecture Series March 20-22. McElheny’s lectures will focus on six essential figures from the histories of art, architecture and music across the 20th and 21st centuries.

The School of Humanities has invited Josiah McElheny to deliver the prestigious Campbell Lecture Series, a three-night lecture / performance that is free and open to the public.

The School of Humanities has invited Josiah McElheny to deliver the prestigious Campbell Lecture Series.

This year’s program, titled “Imaginary Modernism,” will feature three lectures: “Literary Architecture: The Mythic, Futuristic, Comedic Poetic Architectures of Paul Scheerbart and Bruno Taut” (March 20), “Invisible Painting: The Work of Hilma af Klint and Blinky Palermo” (March 21) and “Cosmic Listening: The Cosmo-political Thinking of Sun Ra and Pauline Oliveros” (March 22).

Within these lectures, McElheny will propose that there are a set of paths toward undiscovered alternate futures to be found in the work of specific artists, architects, writers, musicians and composers. Each night will include visual or auditory components.

The lectures are free and open to the public and will begin at 6 p.m. in the Lois Chiles Studio Theater at the Moody Center for the Arts. Each lecture is unique and requires a separate reservation. Lectures will be approximately 45 minutes in length and will be followed by a Q&A with the audience.

McElheny’s work is currently being exhibited in the Moody Center’s Brown Foundation Gallery. “Island Universe” features five monumental steel-and-glass sculptures suspended from the ceiling. The Sputnik-like sculptures were inspired by the famous Lobmeyr chandeliers at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and informed by logarithmic equations devised by the cosmologist David H. Weinberg; each unique creation represents a different model of the universe.

Josiah McElheny's 'Island Universe' is a monumental installation of five hanging sculptures inspired by the multiverse scenario of eternal inflation, an extension of the big bang theory. (Photo by Todd-White Art Photography, London)

Josiah McElheny’s ‘Island Universe’ is a monumental installation of five hanging sculptures inspired by the multiverse scenario of eternal inflation, an extension of the Big Bang Theory. (Photo by Todd-White Art Photography, London)

McElheny biography

McElheny is a 2006 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. The award recognized his work in drawing from the decorative and functional traditions of glass to craft a new, multifaceted form of contemporary art. McElheny received a B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design and was an apprentice to master glassblowers Jan-Erik Ritzman, Sven-Ake Carlsson and Lino Tagliapietra. He was an artist-in-residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and was a senior critic at the Yale University School of Art.

His works have appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, the Donald Young Gallery in Chicago, the Institut im Glaspavillon in Berlin, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the White Cube in London and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.

McElheny co-edited a collection of German critic Paul Scheerbart's writings, published in 2014 as "Glass! Love!! Perpetual Motion!!!"

McElheny co-edited a collection of German critic Paul Scheerbart’s writings, published in 2014 as “Glass! Love!! Perpetual Motion!!!”

Along with renowned gallery director Christine Burgin, McElheny co-edited the first English-language collection of writings by German poet, critic and theorist Paul Scheerbart. “Glass! Love!! Perpetual Motion!!!” was published in 2014 and demonstrates the breadth of Scheerbart’s range, from novelist to critic to theorist to humorist to philosopher to artist, while contextualizing his work in the literary and radical politics at the turn of the 20th century. McElheny’s first lecture on March 20 will describe the collaborations between Scheerbart and activist-architect Bruno Taut and how their ideas speak to the present.

The second lecture on March 21 will discuss the work and thought of two disparate and reticent painters, Hilma af Klint and Blinky Palermo, and their attempts to make visible a world beyond and the nature of the imperfect spaces people inhabit. The final lecture on March 22 concludes the series with an homage to the political, exuberant, unbounded sound-making of Sun Ra and the feminist, radical and communitarian propositions by composer, electronic musician and audience conductor Pauline Oliveros.

Afterward, guests are invited to a reception featuring a performance by Joe McPhee, a child prodigy turned multi-instrumentalist, composer, improviser, conceptualist and theoretician who began playing the trumpet at age 8. The free-jazz musician will both perform and conduct the audience in a participatory activity following the lecture.

The Campbell Lecture Series was made possible by a $1 million contribution from Rice alumnus T.C. Campbell ’34, who wanted to further the study of literature and the humanities with a 20-year annual series of public lectures. Through special arrangements with the University of Chicago Press, each lecture series is later published as a book. A list of previous Campbell lecturers is online at

RSVPs and parking

Seating for the lectures is limited; RSVPs are required at; each lecture requires a separate RSVP. For more information, visit the Campbell Lecture Series website at or e-mail

The public and media are advised to park in West Lot 4 and West Lot 5. Access to these lots is easiest from Entrances No. 17 or No. 18 along Rice Boulevard or Entrance No. 8 on University Boulevard. For a map of the campus, go to

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.