thu 13/06/2024

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, Tate Modern review – beautiful ideas badly installed | reviews, news & interviews

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, Tate Modern review – beautiful ideas badly installed

Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, Tate Modern review – beautiful ideas badly installed

The Danish artist who opens our eyes to climate change

Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010 by Olafur EliassonThyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection, Vienna Photo: María del Pilar García Ayensa/ Studio Olafur Eliasson

At their best, Olafur Eliasson’s installations change the way you see, think and feel. Who would have guessed, for instance, that Londoners would take off their togs to bask in the glow of an artificial sun at Tate Modern. That was in 2003, when The weather project transformed the Turbine Hall into an indoor park suffused with yellow light.

Then last winter, Eliasson brought us Ice Watch. Fished from a fjord in Greenland, blocks of 10,000 year old ice were left to melt on Tate Modern’s lawn. Not only were the effects of global warming made horrifyingly apparent, but the euphoria induced by The weather project was turned on its head – to become a warning.

Now Tate Modern is staging a survey of the Danish artists’s work. In Real Life is interesting and informative, but the wow factor that changes people’s perceptions is largely absent. A bronze cast of a melted ice lump may be good for selfies, but is too cerebral to press home its message.

The fault is often poor installation. At the National Gallery last year, Room for one colour was realised as an enclosed space filled with intense yellow light. It stopped you in your tracks; everything looked flat, sickly and unreal. Normal perception was revealed to be relative, provisional – a mere trick of the light. At Tate Modern the piece is reduced to rows of neon tubes hung outside the lifts; they are scarcely noticeable, let alone transformative.

In one room, water trickles down a window. Rain Window is a lovely idea, but I wonder how many people will spot it ? One of the most affecting works is also the simplest. I grew up in solitude and silence, 1991 consists of a lit candle standing on a circular mirror; but to convey its poetic and somewhat melancholy message, it needs space – and solitude.

Your Blind Passenger, 2010 (pictured above right) is the only truly immersive work. Filled with yellow mist, the 39 metre corridor is long enough to be genuinely disorientating. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a wow-factor junkie. On the contrary, I respond to art that works slowly, but too many of the pieces here are little more than fun. The rainbow shadows cast by spotlights in Your Uncertain Shadow, for instance, (main picture) are beautiful but transitory, in every sense of the word.Eliasson uses art to open our eyes to the disastrous impact we are having on the planet. I applaud the ambition, but this exhibition doesn’t do it justice. In his Berlin studio, he works with architects, art historians, designers, technicians, film-makers and chefs on projects like Little Sun, solar powered torches developed for use in countries without electricity (pictured above: models for prejects developed with architect Einar Thorsteinn). The final room provides a glimpse into activities like these, which take his practice way beyond the narrow remit of art. That, the vegetarian restaurant downstairs serving Olafur Eliasson food and the accompanying discussions and workshops are the most inspiring aspects of this rather disappointing survey.


This is a really disappointing show. It looks like Eliasson has allowed students to make lots of items in play time and then exhibited them. The only one I thought was really stunning was the "blind man's" mist-filled room - but since Gormley everyone and his dog have done something like it. Don't waste your money.

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