FEW ARTISTS have had Picasso’s arrogant confidence: “I do not seek. I find.” Far more typical of modernity was the desire to align one’s work with research: Constable’s cloud studies, Seurat’s Chevreul-inspired pointillism, Kandinsky’s work on synesthesia. Materialization could sometimes seem incidental—yet materialization was exactly what the artist could bring: a way to make research come alive as experience in the body of the viewer. Robert Irwin’s collaborations with scientists from Bell Labs began to mean something when he materialized those laboratory setups of the ganzfeld in public art museums. The theatricality of such maneuvers was rhetorically minimized by reading the work as dematerialized—feeding tensions between theory and materiality, research and production, that are more present than ever in contemporary art.
The case of Olafur Eliasson sharpens such debates. The artist
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