In this work, based on "Ornament and Crime," a treatise by Adolf Loos protesting the decorative excesses of the Austrian Art Nouveau movement that became one of the founding statements of twentieth-century architecture and design, McElheny was looking at the intersections between history, design, and fiction. Adolf Loos’ Ornament and Crime is inspired by the casework in the American Bar in Vienna, designed by Loos in 1908, the same year the essay was written. The glass vessels are recreations of classic designs by Loos and others that would have been used in such a setting. But while Loos’s sumptuous interior blended mirrors, marble and mahogany into a richly colorful and pattered room, McElheny’s interpretation of it is a uniform, affectless white that takes Loos’s idea of suppressing decoration to its logical extreme: in a world made white there is no gradation, no individuation, and ultimately no authorship.

From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Josiah McElheny, American, born 1966
  • Adolf Loos' Ornament and Crime
Date 2002
Medium blown glass with overlay of clear glass, wood, light bulbs and paint
Dimensions Overall: 49 × 60 × 10 1/2 inches (124.5 × 152.4 × 26.7 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Catherine Kresge Dewey Fund; the Janis and William Wetsman Foundation Fund in honor of Rebecca Hart
Accession Number 2003.19
Department Contemporary Art after 1950
Not On View
The artist;
Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, artist representative;
2003, by purchase to DIA 2/28/2003