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 Olafur Eliasson  (1967 - )

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Lived/Active: Denmark/Germany      Known for: optical illusion installations, mixed-media geometric sculpture

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Olafur Eliasson, born in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a Danish-Icelandic artist known for sculptures and large-scale installation* art employing elemental materials such as light, water, and air temperature to enhance the viewer’s experience.  In 1995 he established Studio Olafur Eliasson in Berlin, a laboratory for spatial research.  Eliasson represented Denmark at the 50th Venice Biennale* in 2003 and later that year installed The Weather Project in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, London.

Eliasson has engaged in a number of projects in public space, including the intervention Green River, carried out in various cities between 1998 and 2001; the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007, London, a temporary pavilion designed with the Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen; and The New York City Waterfalls, commissioned by Public Art Fund in 2008.

Olafur Eliasson, born in Copenhagen in 1967 to Icelandic parents, studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts* between 1989 and 1995.

In 2004 Eliasson told Berlin magazine 032c that his father was also an artist; in the same interview he also said that at one time he considered his "break-dancing" during the mid-80s to be his first artworks.  In 1990, when he was awarded a travel budget by the Royal Danish Academy of Arts, Eliasson went to New York where he started working as a studio assistant. He received his degree from the Academy in 1995, after having moved in 1993 to Cologne for a year, and then to Berlin, where he has since maintained a studio.  First located in a warehouse right next door to the Hamburger Bahnhof, the studio moved to a former brewery in Prenzlauer Berg in 2008.

In 1996, Eliasson started working with Einar Thorsteinn, an architect and geometry expert 25 years his senior as well as a former friend of Buckminster Fuller's.  The first piece they created called 8900054, was a stainless-steel dome 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and 7 feet (2.1 m) high, designed to be seen as if it were growing from the ground.  Though the effect is an illusion, the mind has a hard time believing that the structure is not part of a much grander one developing from deep below the surface. 

Thorsteinn's knowledge of geometry and space has been integrated into Eliasson's artistic production, often seen in his geometric lamp works as well as his pavilions, tunnels and camera obscura* projects.  For many projects, the artist works collaboratively with specialists in various fields, among them the architects Thorsteinn and Sebastian Behmann (both of whom have been frequent collaborators), author Svend Åge Madsen (The Blind Pavilion), landscape architect Gunther Vogt (The Mediated Motion), and architect Kjetil Thorsen (Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, 2007).  Today, Studio Olafur Eliasson is a laboratory for spatial research that employs a team of circa 30 architects, engineers, craftsmen, and assistants who work together to conceptualize, test, engineer, and construct installations, sculptures, large-scale projects, and commissions.

As professor at Universität der Künste Berlin, Olafur Eliasson founded the Institut für Raumexperimente, which opened in April 2009.

Following are descriptions of several of his works:

The Weather Project:
The weather project was installed at the London's Tate Modern in 2003 as part of the popular Unilever series.  The installation* filled the open space of the gallery's Turbine Hall.
Eliasson used humidifiers to create a fine mist in the air via a mixture of sugar and water, as well as a semi-circular disc made up of hundreds of monochromatic lamps which radiated single frequency yellow light.  The ceiling of the hall was covered with a huge mirror, in which visitors could see themselves as tiny black shadows against a mass of orange light. Many visitors responded to this exhibition by lying on their backs and waving their hands and legs.  Open for six months, the work reportedly attracted two million visitors, many of whom were repeat customers.

Your Black Horizon:
This project, a light installation commissioned for the Venice Biennale by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in collaboration with British architect David Adjaye, was shown from 1 August to 31 October 2005 on the island of San Lazzaro in the lagoon near Venice, Italy.  A temporary pavilion was constructed on the grounds of the monastery to house the exhibit, consisting of a square room painted black with one source of illumination - a thin, continuous line of light set into all four walls of the room at the viewers eye-level, serving as a horizontal division between above and below. From June 2007 through October 2008, the pavilion was reopened on the island of Lopud, Croatia near the city of Dubrovnik.

Your Mobile Expectaions: BMW H2R Project
Eliasson was commissioned by BMW in 2007 to create the sixteenth art car for the BMW Art Car Project. Based on the BMW H2R concept vehicle, Eliasson and his team removed the automobile's alloy body and instead replaced it with a new interlocking framework of reflective steel bars and mesh.  Layers of ice were created by spraying approximately 530 gallons of water during a period of several days upon the structure. On display, the frozen sculpture is glowing from within.  Your mobile expectations: BMW H2R project was on special display in a temperature controlled room at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from 2007-08[7] and at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, in 2008.

The Parliament of Reality
Dedicated on May 15, 2009, this permanent sculpture stands at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.  The installation is based on the original Icelandic parliament, Althingi [1], one of the world's earliest democratic forums. The artist envisions the project as a place where students and visitors can gather to relax, discuss ideas, or have an argument.  The parliament of reality emphasizes that negotiation should be the core of any educational scheme.  The man-made island is surrounded by a 30-foot circular lake, 24 trees, and wild grasses. The 100-foot-diameter (30 m) island is composed of a cut-bluestone, compass-like floor pattern (based upon meridian lines and navigational charts), on top of which 30 river-washed boulders create an outdoor seating area for students and the public to gather. The island is reached by a 20-foot-long stainless steel lattice-canopied bridge, creating the effect that visitors are entering a stage or outdoor forum. Frogs gather in this wiry mesh at night, creating an enjoyable symphony.

Eliasson had his first solo show in Cologne in 1993, before moving to Berlin in 1994.[10] In 1996, Eliasson had his first show in the United States at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) organized Eliasson's first major survey in the United States Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, on view from September 8, 2007 to February 24, 2008.  Curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn (then Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA), in close collaboration with the artist, the major survey spanned the artist's career from 1993 and 2007. The exhibit included site-specific installations, large-scale immersive environments, freestanding sculpture, photography, and special commissions seen through a succession of interconnected rooms and corridors.  The museum's skylight bridge was turned into an installation titled One-way colour tunnel.

Following its San Francisco debut, the exhibit embarked on an international tour to the Museum of Modern Art, and P.S.1. Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2008; the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, 2008–09; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2009; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 2009-2010.  He has also had major solo exhibitions at, among others, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, and ZKM (Center for Art and Media), Karlsruhe (2001); Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2004); Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2006); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Ishikawa (2009); and Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2010). Eliasson has also appeared in numerous group exhibitions, including the São Paulo Biennial* and the Istanbul Biennial (1997), Venice Biennale (1999, 2001 and 2005), and the Carnegie International 8 (1999).

The Spiral Pavilion, conceived in 1999 for the Venice Biennial and today on display at Kunsthalle Bielefeld, brought Olafur Eliasson the Benesse Prize by the Benesse Corporation. In 2007, Eliasson won the first Joan Miró Prize by the Joan Miró Foundation.

    1.    Joachim Bessing, "Experiencing Space," 032c issue 8 (Winter 2004/05).
    2.    Peter Schjeldahl (April 28, 2008), Uncluttered. An Olafur Eliasson retrospective. The New Yorker.
    3.    Michael Kimmelmann (March 21, 2004), The Sun Sets at the Tate Modern New York Times.
    4.    Marc Spiegler (September 12, 2007), Let There Be Light, ARTINFO,, retrieved 2008-04-23
    5.    Olafur Eliasson: The New York City Waterfalls, Public Art Fund, New York.
    6.    Cynthia Zarin (November 13, 2006), Seeing Things. The art of Olafur Eliasson New Yorker.
    7.    Olafur Eliasson: Your Tempo, September 08, 2007 - January 13, 2008 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
    8.    Jacquelyn Lewis (December 8, 2006), Eliasson's "Eyes" Draw Stares on NY's Fifth Avenue, ARTINFO,, retrieved 2008-04-23
    9.    Design Team High Line.
    10.  Cynthia Zarin (November 13, 2006), Seeing Things. The art of Olafur Eliasson New Yorker.
    11.   Glen Helfand (September 7, 2007), Olafur Eliasson, ARTINFO,, retrieved 2008-04-23
    12.    Olafur Eliasson: Spiral Pavilion Kunsthalle Bielefeld.
    13.    Olafur Eliasson: The nature of things, June 20 - September 28, 2008 Joan Miró Foundation, Barcelona, and Centre Cultural Caixa Girona-Fontana d'Or, Girona.


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