Environmental art movement

When you first become interested in a new artist, usually the process is gradual: a glimpse here, something remembered there. In contrast, Olafur Eliasson burst on the scene all at once for a whole lot of people, including myself, in London’s Tate Modern four years ago.

The 40-year-old Icelandic artist — born in Denmark and working in Berlin — will have his first major exhibit in the United States at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “Take your time: Olafur Eliasson” opens Saturday and runs through Feb. 24. The show will go on from here to New York’s MoMA and the Dallas Museum of Art.

The impact in London came from Eliasson’s “Weather Project,” a huge sunlike disk in the Tate’s enormous Turbine Hall, with hundreds of people sitting or lying on the floor for hours, watching the “sun” rise and set, colors and shadows playing around it, the slowly changing object surrounded by light, mirrors and mist. It’s a stunning, fun installation.

The San Francisco exhibit will be a large retrospective of Eliasson’s work, gathered from private and public collections. Madeleine Grynsztejn is the curator, working closely with the artist, who will attend the SFMoMA opening. The show includes sculptures, photos, installations and his characteristic “large-scale immersive environments.”

Says Grynsztejn: “Involving the viewer as a co-producer of the work is Eliasson’s central tactic for encouraging individual awareness, reflection and ultimately a greater consciousness of the larger workings of our world.” For the 2003 London viewers of the “Weather Project,” these somewhat over-reaching words may be replaced by “entertaining and mesmerizing.”

Other Eliasson works include light-filled environments, walk-in kaleidoscopes, so-called “participatory works” with “meteorological elements,” such as the 1993 “Beauty,” a darkened room with a prismatic spotlight shining though a curtain of fine mist released from the ceiling. Depending on the viewer’s position, a rainbow appears or fades in the installation. The artist’s Icelandic roots are revealed in his constant focus on light, water, ice, fog, arctic moss and lava rock.

Eliasson is also creating several works specifically for the SFMoMA exhibit, including a walk-through tunnel structure on the Museum’s 38-foot alpine pedestrian sky bridge, visible from the atrium five stories below. The chronological survey of Eliasson’s work occupies nearly 10,000 square feet in the Third Street museum.

Take your time: Olafur Eliasson

Where: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., San Francisco

When: Open daily (except Wednesdays) 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; Thursdays until 8:45 p.m.; show runs Saturday through Feb. 24

Tickets: $12.50 general; $8 seniors; $7 students

Contact: (415) 357-4000; www.sfmoma.org

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