Olafur Eliasson as seen in the gallery, studio and real world

Olafur Eliasson as seen in the gallery, studio and real world

The most comprehensive survey of Olafur Eliasson’s career to date has been published by Phaidon, conceived in close collaboration with the artist and his studio team, offering a broad yet detailed overview of the renowned artist’s 30-year oeuvre.

To see an Eliasson exhibition, though visually indelible and very often moving, is to witness specially selected arms of his creative practice. Olafur Eliasson: Experience succinctly brings the artist’s myriad ideas, installations, architecture, performances, philosophies and philanthropies, (a catalogue of achievement difficult to express fully under one roof) together, under one, bright yellow cover.

‘To make art, for me, is to be in dialogue with the world,’ the artist writes in an interview with his longtime collaborator Anna Engberg-Pedersen. ‘Looking at art – or meeting up with art, as I sometimes say – requires a blending of perception, emotion and cognition that I find relevant to almost everything we – as people – do.’ Through interviews, texts by and about Eliasson, alongside never-before-seen photographs of his Berlin studio, we ‘meet up with’ Eliasson’s work personally and profoundly, as if tracking the globe exhibition-hopping and architectural site-seeing.

Olafur Eliasson, Experience, book published by Phaidon

Contact, 2014, installation view at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France, 2014. Photography: Iwan Baan

To understand Eliasson’s 100-strong Berlin team is to understand the way he works, thinks, and creates. Famed for its community atmosphere, the studio sprawls across four floors of a converted 19th-century brewery, now piled high with books, archive works and objects in progress. All staff sit down together for ‘daily vegetarian meals’ from a kitchen that ‘works to promote sustainable healthy cooking’. The new photo-essay included in Experience reveals the studio to be a wildly collaborative laboratory of experiment, failure and success. It features and references the vital work of the craftspeople, administrative staff, cooks and researchers; giving them a moment in the yellow-hued spotlight, which is so often trained directly on Eliasson. 

The book concludes with a valuable chronology that spans ten pages in tiny type, and makes for engaging reading, from the project’s names and descriptions, alongside influential personal milestones like his ‘first visit to Berlin’ in 1989. Here, line by line, the real scope of Eliasson and Studio Olafur Eliasson’s achievement falls into sharp relief. From 1999’s statement-making Green river, which involved pouring soluble green dye into rivers and waterways, to 2014’s Ice Watch, which brought enormous blocks of glacial ice to public squares in Copenhagen and Paris, making palpable the urgency of climate change, Eliasson has done the rare thing of captivating both the art world, and the world at large. §

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