Monday, November 12, 2007

Forecast from SFMOMA: Cold, Wet, and Windy.

I’m getting good at the mad-dash-to-the-art-place-before-you-catch-your-flight excursion. I’ve really wanted to see the Olafur Eliasson show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). And when a last minute business trip left me with an extra hour or two before my flight, I did the museum dash.

I’m glad I did. I wanted to see this exhibit because Olafur has gotten so much attention in Europe (and so little in the U.S.). So this was an early opportunity to experience his first big entre stateside. I can see what all the Europeans are abuzz about.

As you enter the museum, you are immediately greeted by Ventilator, a liberated electric fan. Suspended from high above by an extra long power cord, the fan flits and flutters around the hall with whimsical charm.

The second floor architecture and design galleries left the charm behind and delivered a chilly museum experience. The main work here was Your mobile expectation: BMW H2R project. This is Eliasson’s contribution to BMW’s long-running art car program. Blankets are offered outside a chilled microclimate developed by the artist. As you enter, you’re warned that “your glasses will fog as you leave so please be careful”—my new favorite museum warning. Inside the chilled room (about 14 degrees) is a hydrogen-powered race car skinned with a light-weight stainless steel frame, stainless steel panels, and layer after layer of geometrically formed ice. Yeah, I know. It’s hard to imagine what I’m talking about. You have to see this one. Upon exiting, my glasses fogged. I was careful.

The icy car was just the pre-show. The upstairs galleries featured Take your time, an installation that included a whole slew of works by Eliasson. Take Beauty, the earliest work in the show. This darkened room was filled with a constant, misty rain lit by a single Fresnel lamp, creating elusive rainbows. Or how about Multiple Grotto, a big stainless steel thingy into which the view peers or enters. Standing inside is like entering a kaleidoscope.

One of my favorite areas was the Model room, a collection of cabinets filled with models, maquettes, and prototypes made of wire, string, and cardboard. You could see the tinkering that went into the elaborate final works.

Two works built just for this exhibit took the idea of infinity mirrors to new heights, fooling viewers that they were precariously perched on a window ledge or looking into a vast void hidden inside the museum.

I’ve never been lit so well as while standing in 360° room for all colors. The medium for this work is listed as “stainless steel, projection foil, fluorescent lights, wood, and control unit.” The result is an otherworldly space with light like nothing I’ve experienced before.

My only complaint: SFMOMA crammed a whole lot of Eliasson’s work into not a lot of space. Many of these works felt like they needed more room. And if you look at photos for the original installations, they were given more space, heightening their effect. While I appreciated seeing so many of the artists works, the show might have been better had it been edited.

The program for the show said that Eliasson (who is only 40 years old) creates works that are “devices for the experience of reality, provoking a heightened level of enjoyment and engagement that is profoundly felt.” I engaged and I enjoyed. Profoundly.

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