Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Space fillers

The Boros Collection: part 3
One of the fascinations of high commercial art is why one artist is taken up rather than another. Although the artists who reap the rewards from the dealer galleries, important museum shows, auctions, art fairs and biennales are often very, very good, it is often hard to work out – why them? For us a great example of this mystery is the huge attention attracted by the crowd-pleasing Danish artist working in Berlin, Olafur Eliasson. We’ve now seen his gigantic show Take Your Time at the San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art, shivered in the vault checking out his frozen BMW H2R, caught a few other installations in London and now, around five or six installations at the Boros Collection. While it's true many of the works have an initial visual impact that’s where it ends for us. Like someone working their way through the Boy’s Book of Wizard Experiments, the result feels like a series of clever effects, more David Copperfield than Jeff Koons, with no social or psychological resonance that we can get. Of course Eliasson acknowledges all this by making the workings of his presentations obvious - mirrors and other visual apparatus are in full view, projectors are clipped to stands in the middle of the gallery, wiring is exposed - you don’t have to have a subscription to Popular Mechanics to see how the effects are created. But after working it out, there doesn’t seem to be a lot too talk about apart from his number of assistants (many) and his building in Berlin (huge). Peter Schjeldahl suggested in the New Yorker that “…there should be a nice, clean, special word other than ‘art’ for what he does, to set him apart. There won’t be. ‘Art’ has become the promiscuous catchall for anything artificial that meets no practical need but which we like, or are presumed or supposed to like.” Now that strikes a chord, but there is no doubt about the huge public and political response to Eliasson’s major spectacles like the Tate Modern’s Weather Project or the New York City Waterfalls where the water flows upwards. Still with so many of science's great experiments and demonstrations still to be done, we probably haven't seen the last of him.
Image: Olafur Eliasson's Berlin Colour Sphere 2006 installed at the Boros Collection