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Olafur Eliasson Creates a Riverbed in a Museum

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Installation view, “Riverbed” at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (all photos by Anders Sune Berg, courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk)

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has brought elements of the natural world into the walls of museums several times, such as with his sun-like projection in The Weather Project (2003–2004) at Tate Modern or with his Lava Floor (2008) installation at Switzerland’s Kunsthaus Zug.

Today, Riverbed, his first solo exhibition at Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, fills the museum’s South Wing with dirt and rocks of all sizes, complete with a narrow, meandering trench of water, to transform the space into a craggy landscape.

Visitors are asked to walk on the surface of the site-specific work so that the act of moving through what are usually clean, open rooms guarded by rigid rules becomes an experience in itself rather than only a mode of encountering artworks. “Riverbed” also elevates the status of a natural setting that may not ordinarily be remarkable, inviting deeper exploration of a site easily overlooked. Would we deliberately offer our time to visit our local riverbeds rather than trek to a gallery? Perhaps not — which speaks to the role of the white cube in creating more alluring environments.

Like Walter De Maria’s “New York Earth Room” (1977), a mass of earth filling a large room in Soho, Eliasson’s installation neatly packages the wild into a confined box. While the gallery interior may be claustrophobic compared to the real world, the fluorescent lights and bare walls, so estranged from the earthy floor, render the unpredictability of nature into something safer and more sanitized.

In addition to the interactive installation, Eliasson has collaborated with Icelandic artist Einar Thorsteinn to construct “Model Room” (2003), a table laden with geometric models to represent an artist’s workshop. Three video works exploring movement are also on view: “Your embodied garden” (2013) finds the artist making slow gestures in a garden in China, “Movement microscope” (2011) follows a group of dancers performing in Eliasson’s studio, and “Innen Stadt Aussen” (2010) is Eliasson’s personal ode to Berlin.

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Installation view, “Riverbed” (2014)
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Installation view, “Riverbed” (2014)
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Installation view, “Riverbed” (2014)
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Installation view, “Riverbed” (2014)
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Installation view, “Riverbed” (2014)
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Installation view, “Model Room” (2003)
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Installation view, “Model Room” (2003)

Riverbed continues at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Gl Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebæk, Denmark) through April 1, 2015.

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