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The Artful Traveler: Olafur Eliasson


Bobbie Leigh

San Francisco: ” Take your time: Olafur Eliasson” is not just a play on words. It is a signal that this major survey of the artist’s projects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is going to be an incredibly personal experience. “Experience” is the key word here, as you don’t just look at this Icelandic artist’s work. Instead, you interact with it, as your body and mind are impacted in varying degrees and times by light, heat, moisture and steam. The artist describes the effect as “seeing yourself seeing” as the basis for understanding his work, thus the emphasis on “your” in the title of the show.

A work by Eliasson is a sensual, physical, and emotional experience. His installations range from indoor rainbows to walk-in kaleidoscopes. He is always exploring or perhaps dissolving boundaries between the organic and the artificial, between what we think of as the “real” world and an imagined one.

Eliasson’s best-known work was the 2003 “The Weather Project” at the Tate Modern in London. A gigantic artificial sun made of hundreds of light bulbs was mounted at the top of one wall of the huge Turbine Hall. Visitors lay on the floor and watched their reflections in ceiling mirrors, which doubled the space. A mist machine, recreating an aspect of London’s fog, refracted or obscured the reflections.

Yet Eliasson, probably one of the most important artists of his generation (he was born in 1967), is still not well known in the United States although he’s a major player in Europe.

The survey, dating from 1993 and reflecting all facets of his work, is at SFMOMA, (September 8- February 24, 2008). No doubt, it will finally give Eliasson the wider appreciation his immensely interesting art deserves. The show will then travel to New York’s MOMA.

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