Icelandic, born Denmark (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1967)
An Icelandic citizen born in Denmark and now based in Berlin, Olafur Eliasson has created sculptures, installations, and photography all based in the natural world. His nontraditional materials (including stone, moss, water, mist, ice, fire, and light) often evoke the landscape of his native Scandinavia and occasionally intervene directly into the environment.
Eliasson’s art, however, is concerned less with ecology than with perception. Most works involve effects that do not exist independently but are completed within the viewer’s senses and mind. The experience constantly changes as both viewer and artwork move through time and space. With its seamless union of technology and primal elements, Eliasson’s work represents a fulfillment of longstanding artistic ideals and a new direction in contemporary artmaking.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Olafur Eliasson was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1967. Moving seamlessly from his early photographs to sculpture, immersive environments, large-scale public interventions, and architectural projects, Eliasson uses simple natural elements—light, color, water, and movement—to alter viewers’ sensory perceptions. Predicated on the idea that “art does not end where the real world begins,” Eliasson’s work lives in the active exchange between his creations and the viewers.
Inspired by growing up in Denmark and Iceland, Eliasson’s use of natural elements evokes an awareness of the sublime world around us and how we interact with it; his projects often point toward global environmental crises and consider art’s power to offer solutions to issues like climate change and renewable energy. In addition to his installations in galleries and museums, Eliasson’s work has increasingly engaged broader audiences through permanent architectural projects and interventions in public spaces. Since 2012, Eliasson has also run Little Sun, a certified B Corporation that produces small, solar-powered LED lamps with the aim to provide clean, affordable, and renewable light to communities without access to electricity.
Eliasson studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen (1995). His awards include the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT (2014); Wolf Prize in Painting and Sculpture (2014); European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture–Mies van der Rohe Award (2013); Joan Miró Prize (2007); and the 3rd Benesse Prize (1999). He has had major exhibitions at the Venice Biennial (2017, 2003); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (2015); Martin-Gropius-Bau (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2009); Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2009); Museum of Modern Art and PS1, New York (2008); Dallas Museum of Art (2008); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2007); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2005); Tate Modern (2003); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2002); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2001); and Kunsthalle Basel (1997). Eliasson has also produced a number of permanent installations and site-specific works, such as at Christianshavns Kanal, Copenhagen (2015); ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum (2011); Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre (2011); The Israel Museum (2010); and Hara Museum ARC (2009). Eliasson lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin.