Friday, April 25, 2008

Olafur Eliasson: Reviews of the MoMA exhibition

Olafur Eliasson, Eye See You, 2006, lamp, installed in a window at Louis Vuitton 5th Avenue & 57th Street, NYC. (Photo: Carol Diehl)

“But I guess he's like James Turrell—you need to experience it to truly appreciate it, pictures and words just ain't gonna cut it.”

This from a comment on my last post about Olafur Eliasson, which made me think of my first post ever, almost a year ago, about how sometimes the knowledge we have about what to expect from art (or anything) can interfere with the actual experience. There I told about how, when I tried to shush up the guy sitting next to me in Turrell’s open-to-the-sky room at PS1 called Meeting (after Quaker meeting, a practice based on meditation), he corrected me by saying, “This piece isn’t about silence, it’s about light.”

In other words, sometimes we get so caught up in what we know about a particular artist’s intentions, or where s/he fits into art history, that we forget to rely on our senses.

So it happens that while one reviewer, Charlie Finch of ArtNet, complains bitterly that Eliasson’s work in his MoMA mid-career survey isn’t aesthetic enough (or at all), Holland Cotter in the NY Times ("Stand Still: A Spectacle Will Happen") suggests that it could be too aesthetic, questioning what he calls “the politics of enchantment.”

It appears that Finch couldn't move past an assessment of the purposefully mundane objects to the ambiance each creates, while Cotter seems fearful of being overly enthusiastic. He writes, for instance, Eliasson's work is “too intent on appealing to our appetite for passive sensation” as well as “intellectually stimulating” --which, if you can get both those things to happen at once, sounds pretty cool.

Referring to Eliasson's involvement with BMW , Cotter finds the work “too readily adaptable to corporate design”—an odd statement, in light of Eliasson's heightened awareness of his place in the consumer culture (see Madeleine Grynsztejn's essay, "(Y)Our Entanglements: Olafur Eliasson, the Museum, and Consumer Culture" in the exhibition catalogue), and I think part of Eliasson’s brilliance is in using corporate commissions to make anti-corporate statements. His 2006 light pieces, installed at Christmastime in the windows of 350 Louis Vuitton stores worldwide, utilized the same acrid color-draining yellow light that’s now in the hallways at MoMA. Entitled Eye See You, the lamps, like giant eyeballs, seemed to spotlight potential shoppers with the question “What are you doing shopping for luxury goods when people are suffering? (Eliasson, who has two adopted Ethiopian children, donated the proceeds to a fund he and his wife established to support relief initiatives in Ethiopia).

And somehow, taking a BMW hydrogen-powered race car, enshrouding it a shroud of steel mesh, mirror-coated stainless steel, and many layers of ice and titling it Your mobile expectations hardly seems to pander to its sponsor. (The piece, which was in the SFMOMA exhibition, didn't travel to New York.)

Olafur Eliasson, Your Mobile Expectations, 2007. (Photo: SFMOMA)

I'm with Peter Schjeldahl who wrote in The New Yorker: "Here's someone for whom beauty is normal. His character suggests both the mental discipline of a scientist with the emotional responsibility of a poet."

The MoMA exhibition is entitled Take your time…on purpose. And you can only experience Eliasson’s work fully by seeing the installations at both MoMA and PS1, only 15 minutes apart on the E and the V. And if, in between, you need sustenance, there’s the downscale and tasty Gaw Gai Thai Express at 23-06 Jackson Ave, LIC, across and a little down the street from PS1. I think it has an orange awning.

For reference:

Steve Psyllos, New York Arts, May 7, 2008

Peter Schjeldahl, "Uncluttered," The New Yorker, April 28, 2008

Holland Cotter, "Stand Still; A Spectacle Will Happen, The New York Times, April 18, 2008

Daniel Kunitz, "In Brilliant Color," The New York Sun, April 18, 2008.

Linda Yablonsky, "Don't Believe Your Eyes: Eliasson's Illusion Act at MoMA, P.S. 1," Bloomberg, April 18, 2008

Charlie Finch, "Fake it 'Til You Make It," Artnet

Cynthia Zarin, "Seeing Things," The New Yorker, November 13, 2006.

Carol Diehl, "Olafur Eliasson at Tanya Bonakdar" (review), Art in America, December, 2006.

Carol Diehl, "Northern Lights," Art in America (cover article), October, 2004.

Madeleine Grynsztjen et. al., Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson (exhibition catalog), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art/ Thames and Hudson, 2007.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, a sentence from me inspired a post! I just read your original post and I hope you've made peace with those asymmetrical handles and they're no longer driving you nuts. Thing is, when I first looked at that pic I thought, "What she is talking about, those are gorgeous," and then I noticed it. Would drive me nuts as well. :)