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Kiss, Hug, or Get Lost in Olafur Eliasson’s Giant Reflective Spheres

Eliasson suggested that it was just fine for people to touch his artwork. He even said it would be great if anyone wanted to kiss or hug the spheres.

Olafur Eliasson, “Seeing Spheres” unveiling in San Francisco (image courtesy Jason O’Rear/Chase Center)

SAN FRANCISCO — The Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson told Hyperallergic that he hopes his massive public art installation, “Seeing spheres,” at the new Golden State Warriors stadium will become part of the tissue of San Francisco. The work, commissioned by the Golden State Warriors and Chase Center, is his largest public installation in the United States, and consists of five 15-and-half-foot-tall polished steel spheres, arranged in a circle around an open space on the waterfront behind the new stadium, which will host concerts as well as basketball games. Eliasson said he wants to make people feel welcome in the space.

“It’s very abstract,” he said. “Normally everything has a function, but in this case, the only function is hosting people.”

At the unveiling of the artwork, Eliasson — who asks questions with his artwork like “How do we live together?” — told the crowd that he has always been interested in public space and people feeling comfortable sharing that space. He said he wants people going to a game or a concert, or just walking by, to be drawn in and curious.

Olafur Eliasson speaking about “Seeing Spheres” (image courtesy Jason O’Rear/Chase Center)

“Maybe they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s not a hot dog stand,’” said Eliasson, showing his Icelandic roots, where hot dogs are a popular snack. “’Why don’t we stop and check it out?’”

Each sphere has a circular mirror, framed by LED lights, that reflects the surrounding spheres and catches odd angles. In the middle of the spheres, your perception of the space can change, and Eliasson said he hopes people will get a little lost.

“We live in a world where confusion has almost been eliminated,” he said. “I hope you can let yourself go, and say, ‘Oh I’m lost. Oh, I’m not lost anymore.’”

Eliasson is known for playing with space and using mirrors and spheres and light. He’s previously installed waterfalls under bridges in New York and, in 2007, he walled in the pedestrian bridge at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) with acrylic mirrors to create a hall of colored glass in “One-Way Colour Tunnel” (his first solo show at a museum in the United States). He’s currently having a retrospective at the Tate Modern which features a mist that causes a rainbow to appear and a corridor filled with fog and a yellow glow.

Olafur Eliasson, “Seeing Spheres” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Olafur Eliasson, “Seeing Spheres” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Due to a partnership between SFMOMA and the NBA team, the Warriors home court has other artworks besides “Seeing spheres.” Inside the stadium, a 700-pound 1963 untitled mobile by Alexander Calder, loaned by the museum, hangs from the ceiling. The Warriors have also borrowed a 1975 sculpture by Isamu Noguchi, “Play Sculpture,” which is installed outside the stadium.

Olafur Eliasson, “Seeing Spheres” unveiling in San Francisco (image courtesy Jason O’Rear/Chase Center)

Eliasson had some heady things to say about what public art can do — he wants people to feel like they are participants and citizens in society, not just consumers.

“You feel like, ‘I’m part of something,’” he said. “Like, ‘I’m part of a community. I’m worth something.’”

Eliasson suggested that it was just fine for people to touch his artwork. He even said it would be great if anyone wanted to kiss or hug the spheres.

The artist told Hyperallergic that the mirrors allow the viewer to play with the meaning of Seeing spheres — maybe the mirror becomes the subject and the viewer is the object. “Who has authorship of how we see the world?” he said. “I think art trusts people to look with their own eyes, and that’s something we should not give away. It’s so important that people themselves own their narratives.”

After the unveiling, the crowd wandered in and out of the circle of the spheres. No one tried hugging the orbs, but people were looking at the reflections, maybe feeling a little confused as they saw themselves in their surroundings.

Olafur Eliasson, “Seeing Spheres” unveiling in San Francisco (image courtesy Jason O’Rear/Chase Center)

Olafur Eliasson’s “Seeing Spheres” is installed outside the Chase Center (1 South St, San Francisco).

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