Olafur Eliasson's Anti-Sublime Enchantment

The Icelandic Dane brings his lab studies to MOMA and P.S.1

A curtain of moist and fragrant reindeer moss (Moss Wall, 1994), subtly variegated in color and filling an entire gallery wall, takes the minimalist monochrome in an entirely new direction. And in Your strange certainty kept still (1996), droplets of artificial rain, falling in a darkened room from a perforated hose positioned high overhead, are momentarily illuminated in mid-sprinkle by flashing strobe lights, so that they twinkle like a jeweled veil or stars in the night while offering a proto-cinematic sense of time's passing.

Do these and other works at MOMA rattle our fundamental notions about art or the individual's relationship to society? Probably not—but then, that's a tall order. The best of them skirt the dry formalism that is this artist's Achilles' heel and reach deeper into the realm of fascination and feeling.


Disorientation anyone? Eliasson's 360° Room for All Colours, 2002. More photos from the show here.
Matthew Septimus/Courtesy MOMA and P.S.1
Disorientation anyone? Eliasson's 360° Room for All Colours, 2002. More photos from the show here.

Details

Olafur Eliasson: 'Take Your Time'
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
22-25 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City
Through June 30

Photos from the show
Olafur Eliasson's Take your time at P.S. 1
by Eudie Pak

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Perhaps context is all: Over at P.S.1, the specter of formalism seems more remote in a mix of Eliasson's older and newer works. There, visitors can also intuit the biographical underpinnings of his oeuvre in several series of photographs, arranged in grids, of glaciers, caves, rifts, and horizons that he's taken on his frequent walks through the geologically active landscape of Iceland. Two long galleries filled with mixed-media models (geodesic domes, Tatlinesque constructions, and the like) also give a sense of the fertile workings of his creative process.

A cave-like room (Soil Quasi Bricks, 2003), whose walls are covered with hexagonal earthen tiles, seems to have emerged from volcanic depths. The illuminated ceiling of another bare gallery (The natural light setup, 2008) emits different shades of white light, revealing the white cube (the standard envelope of Western art) as entirely artificial, while calling up the various emotions elicited by bright and overcast skies.

In the basement, Beauty (1993) conjures a constantly shifting rainbow from a spotlight shining on a fine rain of mist, recalling will-o'-the-wisps and other supernatural spirits that once beckoned to 19th-century travelers in the marshes of Europe. And upstairs, a dizzying brand-new work—an immense, circular mirror, attached to the ceiling at an angle and rotating slowly­—reflected, on opening day, a large portion of the New York critical establishment. The axial movement of Take your time (2008)—the work, created exclusively for P.S.1, that lends its name to this entire exhibition—reminded us that, like the turning of the earth's sphere, each new day carries the potential for revolution.

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