Friday, July 8, 2011

Designer of the Month: Olafur Eliasson

To this day, I look back on 2008 as bit of a magical time. Yes, it was a stressful summer with a lot of change, from finishing graduate school to moving in with my boyfriend (now husband) to finding my first full-time job. I was temping at the time, and my hours were pretty flexible at a job I didn't really have to put too much effort into, so as hard as that summer was, it was also one of the few times I can remember just being able to enjoy New York City. And one of the things that I loved the most about it was Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson (April 20 - June 30, 2008), the Olafur Eliasson retrospective at both MoMA and P.S.1. To this day, it remains my favorite show at either institution. It probably didn't hurt that I also had the pleasure of sitting through a Michael Pollan talk, held underneath one of Eliasson's P.S.1 installations, which had the distinction of being one of the most inspiring lectures I'd ever attended, but that was only an added bonus to the show itself. Take Your Time was accompanied by the New York City Waterfalls (June 26 - October 13, 2008), a series of four waterfalls installed along the East River, and with Eliasson in three different locations that summer, for a little over a season, not only had he taken over New York City, but I had found a new favorite artist. And so, it is in honor of the summer of 2008 that I've chosen Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson (1967- ) as July's Designer of the Month.

Olafur Eliasson in front of one of the New York City Waterfalls. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images North America. Courtesy of zimbio.

Saying that Eliasson is an installation artist only touches on the most trivial facet of his artwork. I think that Peter Schjeldahl, in his piece about Take Your Time for The New Yorker, explains it best when he says:
Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic inventor and engineer of minimalist spectacle, is so much better than anyone else in today’s ranks of crowd-pleasing installational artists that there should be a nice, clean, special word other than "art" for what he does, to set him apart. There won’t be. "Art" has become the promiscuous catchall for anything artificial that meets no practical need but which we like, or are presumed or supposed to like.[1] 
Playing with light and space, Eliasson creates immersive environments and complex optical phenomena using simple, makeshift devices.[2] His work is so engaging precisely because of the sense of participation that it requires of the person experiencing it, making people question not only what is right before their eyes, but the entire nature of how we perceive and live within the world. Eliasson's works are at once art installations and social experience, an unusual yet incredibly intriguing prospect.[3] For the rest of the month of July, I'm going to focus on Eliasson's body of work to date. Because Take Your Time was a retrospective, it's the perfect jumping-off point to discuss Eliasson's career, which I'll do over the course of the next few weeks, ending with his current projects. I hope you'll join me.

[1] Peter Schjeldahl, "Uncluttered: An Olafur Eliasson retrospective," The New Yorker online,, (accessed July 7, 2011).

[2] Roxana Marcoci and Klaus Biesenbach, Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, The Museum of Modern Art online,, (accessed July 7, 2011).

[3] Ibid.

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