Eliassons Eyes Draw Stares on NYs Fifth Avenue

Eliassons Eyes Draw Stares on NYs Fifth Avenue
Despite the fact that Olafur Eliassons Eye See You lamp display has been installed in Louis Vuittons flagship Fifth Avenue store for almost a month, passersby are still stopping in their tracks.

In the words of one onlooker on a chilly December evening: “Whoa.”

The four massive beacons cast an orangey-yellow glare from Louis Vuitton’s windows along this major shopping thoroughfare. A closer inspection reveals a dizzying purple iris, and, trapped deep within, an almost disorienting reflection of the viewer.

“Essentially, what I have created is a lamp shaped like the pupil of an eye looking out of the window but which, at the same time, is a mirror,” Eliasson said in a recent artist’s statement..

The works make up Louis Vuitton’s seasonal Christmas windows, and they are on display in all of its 350-plus stores worldwide during the holidays. A second work, You See Mewhich looks like a mammoth, crystalline eye suspended inside the store—was unveiled at the same time as Eye See You and is on permanent display in New York.

A quartet of lamps might seem sparse for a fashion mogul’s Christmas décor, but the installation is actually metaphorically luxurious.

“You can generally say, I think, that there are two types of windows: windows that welcome your transgression, giving you easy access to what lies behind, and windows that function as boundaries,” Eliasson has said about his work. “My aim is to generate an awareness of the dialogue between the two spaces by staging a situation that is about both looking in and looking out.”

He also told The New York Times, “In a museum, the tradition is to suggest that you are alone. Here you are staged as an actor, and the rest of the street is the audience. When you look into the light, you see more of yourself than you ever have.”

Indeed, when I squinted into the light and saw myself staring back, self-consciousness descended immediately. I glanced around to see if anyone was watching, but the people next to me were too busy ogling themselves to even notice me.

Still, the installation doesn’t seem to be all about self-absorption. Eliasson is donating the money he made creating the project—along with the proceeds from sales of the lamps ($33,333 each, in an edition of 30)—to the nonprofit organization 121Ethiopia, which he and his wife helped create. He also used energy-efficient materials in the low-pressure sodium lamps.

Throughout the years, several high-profile artists have been called upon to create holiday window decorations for retailers. Shops in New York have shown displays by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Vito Acconci, among many, many others. So much so that it has become veritable tradition in this city.

Eliasson, himself, has produced other projects for Louis Vuitton in the past, namely a work titled Your Loss of Senses for the October 2005 reopening of its Champs-Elysées House in Paris.

“It is the nature of every store, just like Louis Vuitton, to use light to compete for people’s attention in the city,” Eliasson said.

But maybe, I think, never quite like this.