New York

Olafur Ellasson

Bonakdar Jancou Gallery

Natural elements and industrial materials meld in the work of Icelandic installation artist Olafur Eliasson. Arctic moss and strobe lights, running water and steel are not so much juxtaposed as placed on a continuum, where the organic and the man-made present equally receptive and eloquent surfaces for sensory perception.

Eliasson’s constructions are mysteriously resonant yet disarmingly direct. The titles of his installations often include the possessive pronoun “your,” a detail that helps explain the works’ impact: Eliasson engineers the environments, but their effect derives from your impressions, your reactions. Often placed in the lineage of Light and Space artists Robert Irwin and Tames Turrell, Eliasson seemed here to be borrowing as much from Dan Graham and Gordon Matta-Clark, filtering their seemingly disparate games of perceptual displacement and architectural (de-) constructions through a cheerfully un-macho and pleasure-loving intelligence. The two related works in this exhibition, Your repetitive view and Your now is my surroundings (both 2000), brought the hardness and hustle of Manhattan into the white cube, though only as light, shadow, and breeze.

Eliasson’s project appeared inaccessible at first. The outer gallery and reception area were dominated by a peculiar plywood structure, a large square chute extending through the interior wall and bisecting both rooms. The chute had a stolid, dispassionate humor: It obstructed the space and didn’t offer much to look at. The entrance to the large inner gallery, also partitioned, was inset with a closed steel door. So far, the show seemed to be about frustration.

Opening the door revealed one secret; peeking around the temporary wall disclosed another. Ducking behind the partition and walking all the way around the strut-and-insulation backside of a smaller, sealed room brought you at last to a mirror-lined niche cut in the wall. Within this aqueous green square, the simplicity of Eliasson’s first trick was made manifest: A mirrored tube—the interior of the plywood chute—pierced straight through the building’s central and exterior walls and opened onto Twenty-first Street. As you peered in, a cool wind blew back into your face—the image of which was multiplied by the grid of mirror tiles. Reflections of clouds and passing FedEx trucks and taxis flickered up and down the horizontal passageway. It was like craning your neck to look at skyscrapers, but with the vertical turned horizontal and sky transformed to brick.

Interior and exterior, stability and reflection, architecture and emptiness were also in play behind the steel door. Through a second, much smaller doorway and up a short ramp, you stepped unexpectedly into a bright, roofless room filled with fresh air and sunlight. Eliasson had removed the glass panels from the large skylight overhead, leaving only the latticed metal frame, which inverted and repeated itself in mirrors on the walls. Tinted the same watery green as those in the chute, the mirrors extended from eye level to the base of the skylight’s frame, so that visitors standing in this improbable patio appeared bodiless, their heads floating in endless self-replication through an optical abyss. Simultaneously exposed and enclosed, faced with and yet abstracted from the city, the gallery, and even your own likeness, your body became the focal point—not an externalized image but a habitable table experience, a palpable presence in a world where wood, steel, concrete, and glass seemed to be dissolving. It was a giddy and exhilarating feeling.

Frances Richard