Olafur Eliasson’s climate-centric show takes Tate by storm

The Danish-Icelandic artist’s summerlong Tate Modern takeover begins with far-reaching retrospective and Terrace Bar treats

Installation view of ‘Olafur Eliasson: In real life’ at Tate Modern, on view from 11 July 2019 – 5 January 2020.
Installation view of ‘Olafur Eliasson: In real life’ at Tate Modern, on view from 11 July 2019 – 5 January 2020. Photography: Anders Sune Berg
(Image credit: Anders Sune Berg)

Bowlfuls of carbon-conscious, seasonal, and vegetarian fayre greet guests gathered for ‘Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life’ at Tate Modern’s Terrace Bar. If you’ve come to get closer to the globally recognised star-artist, to understand him ‘IRL', breaking bread is the place to start.

These bowls go deep. They represent Studio Olafur Eliasson’s message – of sustainability, community and experimentation – in its most elemental form. The Berlin studio (which comprises craftsmen, architects, archivists, filmmakers, administrators, cooks), is famed for its communal approach, typified by the daily lunches, cooked and eaten family-style on long benches. Think wholemeal sourdough and beet soup for the soul.

The Presence of Absence, by Olafur Eliasson

The Presence of Absence, by Olafur Eliasson, installation view at Tate Modern

(Image credit: TBC)

The exhibition packs bellyfuls in. A 39m corridor of dense fog; 450 models, prototypes, and geometrical studies from the artist’s studio; a huge wall of reindeer moss from Finland – it’s an ambitious mesh of Eliasson’s three-decade long exploration of (among other things) climate change.

Outside, a dramatic Waterfall (2019) installation measures over 11m in height, with its exoskeleton of pumps and pipes on display. It’s positioned not far from where Ice Watch (an installation of glacial ice from Greenland) stood in December 2018, in a poignant curatorial decision that reflects the fragility of melting ice caps. Inside, the theme ruminates. One of the quieter exhibits, a series of photographs of Iceland’s glaciers taken by the artist in 1999, will be replaced in the autumn by a new artwork that incorporates the old series alongside photos taken 20 years on, illustrating the changes in this landscape that are happening now.

In a continuation of his Tate takeover – which, for the institution, no doubt presents exciting opportunities to replicate the blinding success of Eliasson's glowing sun, that attracted more than two million people in 2003 – a city of white Lego will be dropped into the Turbine Hall later this month, upon which visitors can unleash their inner architect.

Waterfall, 2019, by Olafur Eliasson, installation view outside Tate Modern.

Waterfall, 2019, by Olafur Eliasson, installation view outside Tate Modern. Photography: Anders Sune Berg.

(Image credit: Anders Sune Berg)

Terrace Bar food menu, developed with Studio Olafur Eliasson. Various plates and bowls of different foods on a navy blue surface.

Terrace Bar food menu, developed with Studio Olafur Eliasson

(Image credit: TBC)

Moss wall, 1994, by Olafur Eliasson, installation view at Tate Modern, 2019.

Moss wall, 1994, by Olafur Eliasson, installation view at Tate Modern, 2019. Photography: Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. © 1994 Olafur Eliasson

(Image credit: Anders Sune Berg)

Cold wind sphere, 2012, by Olafur Eliasson, installation view at Tate Modern, 2019

Cold wind sphere, 2012, by Olafur Eliasson, installation view at Tate Modern, 2019. Photography: Anders Sune Berg. Gift of the Clarence Westbury Foundation, 2013. Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art modern, Centre de creation industrielle, Paris. © 2012 Olafur Eliasson.

(Image credit: Anders Sune Berg)

INFORMATION

‘Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life’, until 5 January 2020, Tate Modern. tate.org (opens in new tab).uk

ADDRESS

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG

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Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees Wallpaper.com and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.