Occupation: Sculptor; Installation Artist
Movement: Contemporary Art
Education: Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
“The Inner Cave,” 1998
“1m3 Light,” 1999
“Fivefold Eye,” 2000
“River Raft,” 2000
“Color Vision Kaleidoscope,” 2003
“Quadruple Spiral Projection,” 2004
“To Day,” 2005
“Your Space Eruption,” 2009
Olafur Eliasson is an installation artist and sculptor of Icelandic and Danish origin, best known for his large-scale pieces composed of elemental components such as temperature, humidity, water and light.
Born in Copenhagen in February of 1967, Olafur Eliasson is the son of Ingibjorg Olafsdottir and Elias Hjorleifsson who had moved to Denmark the previous year to find work as a tailor and cook respectively. After they separated in 1975, custody of Eliasson fell to his mother and her new husband, who worked as a stockbroker in the capital. His father returned to his native Iceland to pursue a career in the arts and became a prime influence upon his son’s later decision to do the same. At 15, Eliasson mounted his first solo exhibition, showcasing a series of miniature watercolors and landscapes at an independent gallery in Copenhagen. Nevertheless, as an adolescent, it was his breakdancing that he considered of vital importance and through most of his years in secondary school dedicated himself to the Harlem Gun Crew, a group he founded with two classmates. They were relatively successful, performing at nightclubs and dance halls in the 1980s, and eventually won the Scandinavian championship.
In 1987, after his grandfather’s suicide and his father’s subsequent hospitalization due to alcohol abuse, Eliasson returned to Iceland to help raise his infant half-sister, Anna Viktoria. During this time, he enrolled at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and received a travel grant from the institution in 1990, enabling him to travel to New York to serve as an assistant to Christian Eckhart.
After a brief period in Cologne, the artist graduated from the Royal Academy and established a studio in an unused railway depot in Berlin. In 1996, he began collaborating with the older architect Einar Thorsteinn, an old friend of inventor and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller. The first of their shared artworks, titled “8900054”, was a seven-foot-high dome built to appear as if it were growing from underground — an optical illusion made possible by Thorsteinn’s comprehensive knowledge of space and geometry. This positive experience led Eliasson to collaborate with specialists in different fields on his installations, including the writer Svend Age Madsen, theorist Cedric Price and architect Sebastian Behmann.
In 1998, the artist turned the River Spree fluorescent green with uranin during the Berlin Biennale, repeating the process without prior warning in Bremen, Los Angeles and Tokyo over the next four years. His constant play with spatial theory had led to numerous avant-garde projects such as 2003’s “Weather Project,” in which Eliasson used humidifiers to emit a mist of sugar and water while a large monochromatic disc radiated yellow light. Viewers would often lie down on the floor in order to view themselves on the giant mirror on the building’s ceiling, seeing themselves as small black shadows against a predominant orb of light. His atelier in Berlin currently serves as a research laboratory and employs a large team of engineers, architects and craftsmen to help conceptualize and construct large-scale projects and commissions.
In 2009, Eliasson established the Institute for Spatial Experiments at the Berlin University of the Arts, where he works as a faculty member. He presently divides his time between Berlin and Copenhagen, where he lives with his wife and two children.
1967 - Born in Denmark
1975 - Begins living with his mother and new stepfather
1982 - Mounts his first solo exhibition as an amateur artist
1987 - Returns to Iceland
1989 - Enrolls at the Royal Danish Academy of Art
1996 - Begins collaborating with Thorsteinn
2009 - Founds the Institute for Spatial Experiments
1994 - Forumgalleriet, Malmo
1994 - Stalke Galleri, Copenhagen
1995 - Neugerriemschneider, Berlin
1996 - Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
2000 - Naoshima Contemporary Art Mueum, Kagawa
2003 - Tate Modern, London
2004 - Museum of Modern Art, Oslo
2006 - Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
2009 - Niels Borch Jensen Galerie, Berlin
2010 - Galeria Elvira Gonzalez, Madrid
2011 - PinchukArtCentre, Kiev
2012 - Tate Modern, London
Museums / collections
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Art Institute of Chicago
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Books / publications
“Olafur Eliasson: Your Only Real Thing is Time” by Jessica Morgan and Jill Medvedow
“Contact” by Olafur Eliasson
“Olafur Eliasson” by Madeleine Grynsztejn and Daniel Birnbaum
“Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson” by Madeleine Grynsztejn
“Contact is Content” by Olafur Eliasson