My favorite living artist: Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's Tate exhibit

One of the great coincidences of my life is that my girlfriend in college (now my wife) was a painter. I didn’t know it at the time, but by tagging along to events at the art department at CMU, and at times helping her with her work, I was unintentionally exposed to what the world of art is and what artists actually do. These are experiences I doubt I’d have had. My family and friends had no interest in art. And more to my work these days, few people in the computer science or business world get this kind of exposure, and I think it’s a shame (Paul Graham is a notable exception). Anyone who talks about creativity without talking at all about art is a poser – these are the folks with one of the longest creative traditions we have.

But more on the history of art and creativity some other time. I’m posting today to talk about the guy I now recognize as my favorite: Olafur Eliasson. Five years ago I stumbled into the Tate museum and was blown away by this, this thing, in the ten story Turbine hall. Frank and I spent more than an hour playing and dancing under this enormous simulated sun. We watched kids dance and play with the huge mirror hanging across the entire football field sized ceiling. It was, without hyperbole, sureal. I didn’t know what it was, or what it was for, and that, like much of the art I enjoy, made it accessible to me and everyone there.

Eliasson's MOMA exhibitThen last month, at the MOMA, I stumbled again into Eliasson’s work. Here the works are at at smaller scale, but like the Tate exhibit the works lend themselves to interaction. Rooms are filled with lights and mirrors that dared me to step inside the work (one eye on the security guard to make sure it was ok, which it was). Walls covered with distorted metal windows, or shifting patterns of light (reminiscent of Turrel’s skyspace), that make it impossible not to look. Or touch. Or stick around and wait to see what’s going on. It’s experience as art.

I’ll be in NYC this summer and hope to catch Eliasson’s latest exhibit, Waterfalls. The scale of this project looks to be more like Christo’s wrappings, interesting for their awesome scale, and interactive only in that they get people to stop and look. But I’ll go and hope to stumble again into another memorable experience.

4 Responses to “My favorite living artist: Olafur Eliasson”

  1. SamK

    “One of the great coincidences of my life is that my girlfriend in college (now my wife) was a painter.”

    Definition of coincidence: an event that might have been arranged although it was really accidental

    What is the coincidence? You don’t tell us what it is.

  2. Len

    I’m looking forward to Waterfalls, heading out on the water next week to see them!

  3. Scott

    SamK – given that I write about creativity and innovation, it’s been pretty handy to have a spouse who’s an artist :)



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