Ólafur Elíasson in 2015.
1967 (age 52–53)
|Known for||Installation art|
Olafur Eliasson (Icelandic: Ólafur Elíasson; born 1967) 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. Olafur 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.
Olafur 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 Trædal Thorsen; and The New York City Waterfalls, commissioned by Public Art Fund in 2008. He also created the Breakthrough Prize trophy. Like much of his work, the sculpture explores the common ground between art and science. It is molded into the shape of a toroid, recalling natural forms found from black holes and galaxies to seashells and coils of DNA.
Olafur was a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts from 2009 to 2014 and is an adjunct professor at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design in Addis Ababa since 2014. His studio is based in Berlin.
Life and career
Early life and education
Olafur Eliasson was born in Copenhagen in 1967 to Elías Hjörleifsson and Ingibjörg Olafsdottir. His parents had emigrated to Copenhagen from Iceland in 1966, he to find work as a cook, and she as a seamstress. He was 8 when his parents separated. He lived with his mother and his stepfather, a stockbroker. His father, then an artist, moved back to Iceland, where their family spent summers and holidays. At 15 he had his first solo show, exhibiting landscape drawings and gouaches at a small alternative gallery in Denmark. However, Olafur considered his "break-dancing" during the mid-1980s to be his first artworks. With two school friends, he formed a group, calling themselves the Harlem Gun Crew, and they performed at clubs and dance halls for four years, eventually winning the Scandinavian championship.
Olafur studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1989 to 1995. In 1990, when he was awarded a travel budget by the Royal Danish Academy, Olafur went to New York where he started working as a studio assistant for artist Christian Eckart in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and reading texts on phenomenology and Gestalt psychology.
Olafur 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 three-story former train depot right next door to the Hamburger Bahnhof, the studio moved to a former brewery in Prenzlauer Berg in 2008.
In 1996, Olafur started working with Einar Thorsteinn, an architect and geometry expert 25 years his senior as well as a former friend of Buckminster Fuller. 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 Olafur'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, Behmann working on the Kirk Kapital headquarters on Vejle Fjord in Denmark, completed in 2018), author Svend Åge Madsen (The Blind Pavilion), landscape architect Gunther Vogt (The Mediated Motion), architecture theorist Cedric Price (Chaque matin je me sens différent, chaque soir je me sens le même), and architect Kjetil Thorsen (Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, 2007). Studio Olafur Eliasson, which the artist founded as a "laboratory for spatial research", employs a team of architects, engineers, craftsmen, and assistants (some 30 members as of 2008) who work together to conceive and construct artworks such as installations and sculptures, as well as large-scale projects and commissions.
As professor at the Berlin University of the Arts, Olafur Eliasson founded the Institute for Spatial Experiments (Institut für Raumexperimente, IfREX), which opened within his studio building in April 2009.
Selected works and projects
Early works by Olafur consist of oscillating electric fans hanging from the ceiling. Ventilator (1997) swings back and forth and around, rotating on its axis. Quadrible light ventilator mobile (2002–2007) is a rotating electrically powered mobile comprising a searchlight and four fans blowing air around the exhibition room and scanning it with the light cone.
The weather project
Olafur used humidifiers to create a fine mist in the air via a mixture of sugar and water, as well as a semicircular disc (reflected by the ceiling mirror to appear circular) made up of hundreds of monochromatic lamps which radiated 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 symbolizing the sun. Many visitors responded to this exhibition by lying on their backs and waving their hands and legs. Art critic Brian O'Doherty described this as viewers "intoxicated with their own narcissism as they ponder themselves elevated into the sky." Open for six months, the work reportedly attracted two million visitors, many of whom were repeat visitors. O'Doherty was positive about the piece when talking to Frieze magazine in 2003, saying that it was "the first time I've seen the enormously dismal space—like a coffin for a giant—socialized in an effective way."
Olafur has been developing various experiments with atmospheric density in exhibition spaces. In Room For One Colour (1998), a corridor lit by yellow monofrequency tubes, the participants find themselves in a room filled with light that affects the perception of all other colours. Another installation, 360 degrees Room For All Colours (2002), is a round light-sculpture where participants lose their sense of space and perspective, and experience being subsumed by an intense light. Olafur's later installation Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010), commissioned by the Arken Museum of Modern Art, is a 90-metre-long tunnel. Entering the tunnel, the visitor is surrounded by dense fog. With visibility at just 1.5 metres, museumgoers have to use senses other than sight to orient themselves in relation to their surroundings. For Feelings are facts, the first time Olafur has worked with Chinese architect Yansong Ma as well as his first exhibition in China, Olafur introduces condensed banks of artificially produced fog into the gallery of Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Hundreds of fluorescent lights are installed in the ceiling as a grid of red, green, and blue zones.
In 1998, Olafur discovered that uranin, a readily available nontoxic powder used to trace leaks in plumbing systems, could dye entire rivers a sickly fluorescent green. Olafur conducted a test run in the Spree River during the 1998 Berlin Biennale, scattering a handful of powder from a bridge near Museum Island. He began introducing the environmentally safe dye to rivers in Moss, Norway (1998), Bremen (1998), Los Angeles (1999), Stockholm (2000) and Tokyo (2001) — always without advance warning.
In regular intervals, Olafur presents grids of various color photographs, all taken in Iceland. Each group of images focuses on a single subject: volcanoes, hot springs and huts isolated in the wilderness. In his very first series he attempted to shoot all of Iceland’s bridges. A later series from 1996 documented the aftermath of a volcanic eruption under the Vatnajökull. Often these photographs are shot from the air, in a small rented plane traditionally used by mapmakers. Arranged in a grid, the photographs recall the repetitive images of the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher.
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 expectations: BMW H2R project
Olafur was commissioned by BMW in 2007 to create the sixteenth art car for the BMW Art Car Project. Based on the hydrogen-powered BMW H2R concept vehicle, Olafur 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 to 2008 and at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, in 2008.
The New York City Waterfalls
Olafur was commissioned by The Public Art Fund to create four man-made waterfalls, called The New York City Waterfalls, ranging in a height from 90–120 ft., in New York Harbor. The installation ran from 26 June through 13 October 2008. At $15.5 million, it was the most expensive public arts project since Christo and Jeanne-Claude's installation of The Gates in Central Park.
The Parliament of Reality
Dedicated on 15 May 2009, this permanent sculpture stands at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. The installation is based on the original Icelandic parliament, Althingi, 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.
Colour experiment paintings (2009–)
For his ongoing series of Colour experiment paintings – which began in 2009 – Olafur started analyzing pigments, paint production and application of colour in order to mix paint in the exact colour for each nanometre of the visible light spectrum. In 2014, Olafur analyzed seven paintings by J. M. W. Turner to create Turner colour experiments, which isolate and record Turner’s use of light and colour.
Olafur designed the facade of Harpa, Reykjavík's new concert hall and conference centre which was completed in 2011. In close collaboration with his studio team and Henning Larsen Architects, the designers of the building, Olafur has designed a unique facade consisting of large quasi bricks, a stackable twelve sided module in steel and glass. The facade will reflect the city life and the different light composed by the movements of the sun and varying weather. During the night the glass bricks are lit up by different colored LED lights. The building was opened on 13 May 2011.
Your rainbow panorama
Olafur's artwork Your rainbow panorama consists of a circular, 150 metres (490 ft) long and 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide corridor made of glass in every color of the spectrum. It has a diameter of 52 metres (171 ft) and is mounted on 3.5 metres (11 ft) high columns on top of the roof of the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Aarhus. It opened in May 2011. Visitors can walk through the corridor and have a panoramic view of the city. Construction cost 60 million Danish kroner and was funded by the Realdania foundation.
Olafur's idea was chosen in 2007 among five other proposals in a bidding process by a panel of judges. At night the artwork is lit from the inside by spotlights in the floor.
In November 2013, at the Falling Walls Conference, Olafur presented with Ai Weiwei, connected via web from Beijing, their collaboration Moon, an open digital platform that allows users to draw on enormous replica of the moon via their web browser. The platform is a statement in support of freedom of speech and creative collaboration.
From December 17, 2014 to February 23, 2015, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris. The artworks appear as a sequence of events along a journey. Moving through passageways and expansive installations, visitors become part of a choreography of darkness, light, geometry, and reflections. Along the way, optical devices, models, and a meteorite reflect Olafur’s on-going investigations into the mechanisms of perception and the construction of space.
In 2005, Olafur and classical violin maker Hans Johannsson began work on the development of a new instrument, with the objective to reinterpret the traditions of 17th- and 18th-century violin making using today’s technology and a contemporary visual aesthetic.
Commissioned by Louis Vuitton in 2006, lamps titled Eye See You were installed in the Christmas windows of Louis Vuitton stores; a lamp titled You See Me went on permanent display at Louis Vuitton Fifth Avenue, New York. Each deliberately low-tech apparatus, of which there are about 400, is composed of a monofrequency light source and a parabolic mirror. All fees from the project were donated to 121Ethiopia.org, a charitable foundation initially established by Olafur and his wife to renovate an orphanage.
Along with James Corner's landscape architecture firm Field Operations and architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Olafur was part of the design team for New York's High Line park. Olafur was originally supposed to create an outdoor-based artwork for the 2012 Summer Olympics; however, his proposed £1 million ($1.6 million) project Take A Deep Breath – which involved recording people breathing – was rejected due to funding problems.
It was reported in October 2019 that Eliasson was commissioned by the German government to create a "pan-European work of art" for the German European Council presidency in the second half of 2020.
Olafur had his first solo show was with Nicolaus Schafhausen in Cologne in 1993, before moving to Berlin in 1994. In 1996, Olafur had his first show in the United States at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) organized Olafur's first major survey in the United States Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, from September 2007 to February 2008. Curated by the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 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, 2008–2009; 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); the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2010) and the Langen Foundation, Museum Insel Hombroich, Neuss (2015). Olafur 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 (1999), Palace of Versailles (2016), The Parliament of Possibilities at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art (2016-2017).
Olafur's work is held in the following permanent collections:
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
- Centre for International Light Art (CILA), Unna, Germany
- Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
The Spiral Pavilion, conceived in 1999 for the Venice Biennale and today on display at Kunsthalle Bielefeld, brought Olafur Eliasson the Benesse Prize by the Benesse Corporation. In 2004, Olafur won the Nykredit Architecture Prize and the Eckersberg Medal for painting. The following year he was awarded the Prince Eugen Medal for sculpture  and in 2006, the Crown Prince Couple's Culture Prize. In 2007, he was awarded the first Joan Miró Prize by the Joan Miró Foundation.
In 2010, Olafur was the recipient of a Quadriga award. He returned his award one year later after it was revealed that Vladimir Putin would be recognized in 2011. In October 2013, he was honored with the Goslarer Kaiserring. That same year, Olafur and Henning Larsen Architects were recipients of the Mies van der Rohe Award for their Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center in Reykjavik, Iceland.
In 2014, Olafur was the recipient of the $100,000 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The prize is considered an investment in the recipient’s future creative work, rather than a prize for a particular project or lifetime of achievement. The awardee becomes an artist in residence at MIT, studying and teaching for a period of time.
Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz's documentary piece, Domingo, shot from his encounter with Olafur during the 17th Videobrasil Festival, had its world premiere at Rio International Film Festival] in 2014, and was released on DVD in 2015.
Olafur is married to Danish art historian Marianne Krogh Jensen, whom he met when she curated the Danish Pavilion for the 1997 São Paulo Art Biennial. They adopted both their son (in 2003) and their daughter (in 2006) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The family lives in a house designed by architect Andreas Lauritz Clemmensen in Hellerup near Copenhagen; Olafur commutes to Berlin. Olafur speaks Icelandic, Danish, German, and English. He also has a younger half-sister named Victoria Eliasdottir who is a chef.
On 22 September 2019, Eliasson was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations Development Programme "to advocate for urgent action on climate change and sustainable development goals." In the context of his appointment, Eliasson emphasized the need to stay positive: "I also think it's important not to lose sight of what is actually going quite well. There is reason for hope. I believe in hope as such and I'm generally a positive person. And when you think about it: it has never been better to be a young African girl, for instance."
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- Cooke, Rachel (2019-08-19). "Olafur Eliasson: 'I brought a frozen chicken into art school'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-10-21.
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- Holzwarth, Hans W. (2009). 100 Contemporary Artists A-Z (Taschen's 25th anniversary special ed.). Köln: Taschen. p. 156. ISBN 978-3-8365-1490-3.
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- Olafur Eliasson – Din blinde passager at ARKEN Archived 2011-07-12 at the Wayback Machine Arken Museum of Modern Art.
- Roberta Smith (November 15, 2012), Art in Review; Olafur Eliasson: ‘Volcanoes and shelters’ New York Times.
- Olafur Eliasson: Your Tempo, September 8, 2007 – January 13, 2008 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
- Dobnik, Verena (22 June 2008). "NYC getting 'Waterfalls' off shore of Manhattan". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2008.
- Olafur Eliasson: Turner colour experiments, 26 August 2014 – 25 January 2015 Tate Britain, London.
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- Gulstad, Hanne Cecilie (28 August 2013). "Eliasson's room with a rainbow view brings record visitors to Aros". Archived from the original on 31 August 2013.
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- Olafur Eliasson: The nature of things, June 20 – September 28, 2008 Joan Miró Foundation, Barcelona, and Centre Cultural Caixa Girona-Fontana d'Or, Girona.
- Kristen Allen and Josh Ward (July 18, 2011), The World from Berlin: Award for Putin Was 'Dilettantish and Politically Insensitive' Der Spiegel.
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- Rio, Festival do. "Domingo". Festival do Rio. Retrieved 2019-04-28.
- Julie L. Mellby (September 2, 2007), "Your House" by Olafur Eliasson Princeton University Library.
- "Olafur Eliasson appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador for climate". www.theartnewspaper.com. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
- Deutsche Welle. "Olafur Eliasson: 'The past won't guide us into the future' | DW | 04.10.2019". DW.COM. Retrieved 2019-10-21.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Olafur Eliasson.|
- Official website
- Video of Olafur Eliasson conference: The Sun has no money
- MoMA 2008: Olafur Eliasson: take your time (requires Flash Player)
- 1998 article from frieze
- Tate Modern: The Weather Project
- SFMOMA 2007: Olafur Eliasson Survey
- 'Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson' at SFMOMA (requires Flash Player)
- Olafur Eliasson: Your Mobile Expectations
- Olafur Eliasson at the Fundación NMAC
- A Riverbed Inside The Museum. An interview with Olafur Eliasson, 2014 Video by Louisiana Channel
- Olafur Eliasson at TED