May 2008, Olafur Eliasson: Take Your Time

Olafur Eliasson, Take your time (2008), Mirror foil, aluminum, steel, motor, and control unit, Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, and neugerriemschneider, Berlin
Installation view at P.S.1, 2008, Photograph by Matthew Septimus, Courtesy of MoMA and P.S.1.
© 2008 Olafur Eliasson

Take Your Time
: Olafur Eliasson
April 20 through June 30, 2008
P.S.1. Contemporary Art Center
22 –25 Jackson Avenue
11101, Long Island City, NY
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
Between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
New York, NY 10019-5497

P.S.1. Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, NY, has put together a nice exhibition that comes announced with impressive superlatives: the first comprehensive survey in the United States to explore the highly experimental work of Olafur Eliasson, whose large-scale immersive environments and installations elegantly recreate the extremes of landscape and atmosphere in his native Iceland. True, but although the exhibition Take Your Time is indeed a first comprehensive survey of the work of the Danish-Icelandic Eliasson, it is also one that was initially conceived and realized by SFMOMA’s curatorial team and traveled to New York’s finest art spaces afterwards. Nevertheless, Take Your Time’s East Coast version has been further developed and expanded by curators, organizers and art connoisseurs Klaus Biesenbach and Roxana Marcoci.

During the last two years, Mr. Biesenbach and Ms. Marcoci have worked directly with the artist and the Studio Olafur Eliasson, to conceive one exhibition in two locations – MoMA and P.S.1. – by catalyzing the curatorial methodologies and spatial perspectives of the Kunsthaus and the Kunsthalle and thus arriving at an exhibition that is about the artist’s process and is at once a scholarly retrospective, an experimental site and a laboratory. While this sounds very promising in terms of exhibition design, interactivity or visual innovation, Take Your Time is still a very aesthetic and risk free exhibition. Honestly, an ensemble of sculptural studies in wood or cardboard, small-scale, complex-geometric objects and photographs displayed on top of, as well as inside a couple of shipping crates is not necessarily what I call a laboratory; and an exhibition is not per se experimental just because some of the works displayed involve water, steam and light. The attempt of the curators to create an all-inclusive, top, comprehensive, first, grand, laboratory, experimental, superlative, everything type of exhibition, showing a major artwork next to a loose sketch or draft for other pieces, in retrospect, eclipses the simple, captivating beauty and impact of Eliasson’s installations. The problem is very simple: what we’re missing is space for experience and contemplation in Take Your Time.

Olafur Eliasson, Reversed waterfall, 1998, Scaffolding, steel, water, foil, wood, hose, and pump
122 4/5 x 109 2/5 x 63" (312 x 278 x 160 cm), Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary
Installation view at P.S.1, 2008, Photograph by Matthew Septimus. Courtesy of MoMA and P.S.1.
© 2008 Olafur Eliasson

Ironically, Take Your Time (2008) is also the title for Olafur Eliasson’s newest piece, really the only one on view at P.S.1. that gives us a fairly satisfying, spatial experience. A giant, circular-shaped mirror, 40 feet in diameter and weighing 600 pounds, is mounted to the ceiling at an angle, rotating at one revolution per minute. The installation destabilizes viewers’ perception of space as they pass beneath it. Through the reflection of the gallery in the mirror, the piece actually adds light and space to the whole exhibition. Inevitably, partially also due to the weird and unpredictable layout of the rest of the exhibition, this room becomes the centre of Take Your Time. The slow motion of the ceiling piece, as well as its awkward angle that evokes the illusion that the walls bend, turn the gallery in a fascinating surreal-meditative space. Spontaneously, visitors lie down on the vast, hardwood floor and stare into the bright reflective surface of the mirror, observing how the environment distorts glacially. Predictably, the piece Take Your Time (2008) has the most impact when experienced in complete solitude. Upon entering the space, the rotating mirror and its immediate effect of doubling and distorting the gallery, is surprising and astounding. If only the whole show could have been conceptualized around this simplicity of vast beauty.


Concurrent with the installation Reversed Waterfall (1998) at Take Your Time, the City of New York and Public Art Fund will install four 90 to 120 foot man-made waterfalls at sites within the New York Harbor, between Pier 4 and 5 (Brooklyn,) under the Brooklyn Bridge, at Governor’s Island and at Pier 35 (Manhattan.) These impressive artificial waterfall-towers will be on view in the East River from July to Mid-October 2008. Here as well, the concept of time, as suggested in the title of the grand survey exhibition, has no place in this attraction: boat trips to all four of the waterfalls are exactly 30 minutes long. By the time these waterfalls will visually impress many of the New York summer come and goers, tourists and city trippers, the exhibition Take Your Time at P.S.1. and MoMA will be over.

The New York City Waterfalls

Jan Van Woensel

Jan Van Woensel is an independent curator, art critic and musician based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the curatorial advisor of Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer and curator of Studio Philippe Vandenberg. Van Woensel is professor at CCA, dept of Curatorial Practice in San Francisco; Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles; and NYU, dept of Art and Art Professions in New York. Office Jan Van Woensel, a team of assistant curators supervised by Van Woensel, works with international clients such as private collectors, art galleries and artists on exhibitions. Contact: 

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