My Dinner with Olafur

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Met last night for drinks and a bite to eat with Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-born artist of Icelandic descent who now lives in Berlin, and who became suddenly famous three years ago for “The Weather Event”, his immensely popular installation in the Great Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London. I described it in TIME a while back this way:

In a nimble rethinking of the atmospheric sublime, Eliasson mirrored the hall’s 115-ft. ceiling, then hung from it a patently artificial but weirdly persuasive “sun” made from 144 yellow lightbulbs behind a giant semicircular screen. Then he pumped the room full of mist. During a six-month run that ended in March 2004, Eliasson’s make-believe sky drew some 2 million visitors. A lot of them spent long stretches lying on their backs, gazing blissfully upward.

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The Weather Project/Olafur Eliasson, 2003 — Photo: Tate, London

Eliasson is in the U.S. this week to help with a major survey of his work that opens in September at the San Francisco MoMA and then moves to MoMA in New York, the Dallas Museum of Art, MOCA in Sydney Australila and possibly elsewhere. One interesting thing he mentioned last night — he may install a temporary work in the giant, problematic atrium of MoMA in New York, a space the museum has still never quite figured what to do with. MoMA’s temporary installation of Jennifer Bartlett’s Rhapsody — good idea. Their temporary installation of Monet’s Water Lilies — bad idea. Best idea — do as the Tate does and commission artists to make new projects that use the space to the fullest.

There’s always a danger they’ll come up with something as silly as the Carsten Holler sliding ponds that were at the Tate when I last visited in November. But it could just as easily produce work that would get MoMA seriously involved with the contemporary art scene. Eliasson would be a great way to start — though he has reservations about not wanting to be known as “the guy who does lobby art”.

As we were talking about this the hostess at our restaurant came by to fiddle with the dimmers that controlled light in the dining room. I considered telling her that I was sitting with just the guy who should handle that job. But I decided against it. These days he has enough to do.

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