Throughout the past two and a half decades, Olafur Eliasson’s sculptures, installations, paintings, photography, films, and public projects have served as tools for exploring the cognitive and cultural conditions that inform our perception. Ranging from immersive environments of color, light, and movement to installations that recontextualize natural phenomena, his work defies the notion of art as an autonomous object and instead positions itself as part of an exchange with the actively engaged visitor and her individualized experience. Described by the artist as “devices for the experience of reality,” his works and projects prompt a greater sense of awareness about the way we engage with and interpret the world. Not limited to the confines of the museum and gallery, his practice engages the broader public sphere through architectural projects, interventions in civic space, arts education, policy-making, and issues of sustainability and climate change.
Born in Copenhagen in 1967, Eliasson grew up in both Iceland and Denmark, where he studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Art (1989–1995). Upon graduating, he relocated to Berlin, where he established his studio in 1995. Today it is comprised of over on hundred team members, including craftsmen, architects, archivists, researchers, administrators, cooks, programmers, geometers, and art historians. From 2009 to 2014, as a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts, Eliasson led the Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute for Spatial Experiments), a five-year experimental program in arts education located in the same building as his studio. Eliasson currently lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin.
Since the mid-1990s, the artist’s work has been at the center of numerous exhibitions and projects around the world. In 2003, Eliasson represented Denmark at the 50th Venice Biennale with The blind pavilion and, later that year, he opened the celebrated work The weather project at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The artist’s first retrospective, Take your time: Olafur Eliasson, opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2007 before traveling to the Museum of Modern Art and PS1 in New York; The Dallas Museum of Art; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, through 2010. His second retrospective, In real life opened at the Tate Modern, London in 2019 before traveling to the Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain (2020).
Other significant solo exhibitions include Symbiotic seeing, Kunsthaus Zurich (2020); Y/our future is now, The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (2019); Reality Projector at Marciano Foundation in Los Angeles, CA (2018); The unspeakable openness of things, Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing, China (2018); Olafur Eliasson WASSERfarben, Graphische Sammlung - Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany (2018); Olafur Eliasson: Multiple shadow house, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal, Canada (2017); Olafur Eliasson: Nothingness is not nothing at all, Long Museum, Shanghai, China (2016); Olafur Eliasson: Verklighetsmaskiner, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2016); Olafur Eliasson: BAROQUE BAROQUE, The Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy, Vienna, Austria (2016); Olafur Eliasson: Riverbed, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark (2014); Olafur Eliasson: Contact, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France (2014); Olafur Eliasson: Your trust, Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany (2014); Olafur Eliasson: Your emotional future, PinchukArtCentre, Kiev, Ukraine (2011); Olafur Eliasson: Seu corpo da obra, 17th International Contemporary Art Festival SESC_Videobrasil, São Paulo, Brazil; Innen Stadt Außen at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin (2010); Your chance encounter at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan (2009–2010); The New York City Waterfalls, a major public art project for the city of New York (2008); Notion motion at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (2005); Colour memory and other informal shadows at Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst in Oslo (2004); Chaque matin je me sens différent, chaque soir je me sens le même at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in France (2002); Your only real thing is time at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (2001); and The curious garden at Kunsthalle Basel (1997), among many others.
The artist has also produced a number of permanent installations and site-specific works, including Seeing spheres which was unveiled for the Golden State Warriors arena in San Francisco, CA (2019); How to build a sphere out of cubes, Texas A&M University (2018); Northwest Passage at MIT Cambridge, MA (2018); Your panoramic awareness at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park at the Des Moines Art Center (2013); Your rainbow panorama at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark (2011); the façades for Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre in Iceland in collaboration with Henning Larsen Architects (2011); Whenever the rainbow appears at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem (2010); Sunspace for Shibukawa at the Hara Museum ARC in Shibukawa, Japan (2009); and The parliament of reality, a permanent outdoor installation at Bard College, New York (2009).
In 2012, Eliasson launched his Little Sun project at Tate Modern as part of the London 2012 Festival. Developed by the artist in cooperation with engineer Frederik Ottesen, Little Sun refers to both a small, solar-powered LED lamp and a global project to provide clean, affordable light to communities without access to electricity. For more information about this initiative and ways to purchase Little Sun, please visit: www.littlesun.com.
Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann founded Studio Other Spaces, an International office for art and architecture, in Berlin in 2014. As an architectural counterpart to Studio Olafur Eliasson in the same building, Studio Other Spaces focuses on interdisciplinary and experimental building projects and works in public space.
Eliasson’s work is represented in many prestigious collections worldwide, including those of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Tate Collection, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh; The Art Institute of Chicago; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York; Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C.; Leeum Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark; MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Dallas Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
The artist has been granted numerous awards over the years, including the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT (2014), the Wolf Prize in Painting and Sculpture (2014), the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award (2013) (with Henning Larsen Architects and Batterid), the Joan Miró Prize (2007), and the 3rd Benesse Prize (1999).