From September 8, 2007 through January 13, 2008, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present the exhibition Your tempo: Olafur Eliasson. Organized by Henry Urbach, SFMOMA’s Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, this special exhibition marks the first public presentation and only U.S. engagement of Your mobile expectations: BMW H2R project, 2007, a new work by contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson created in conjunction with BMW’s Art Car program.
Eliasson’s project transforms an object of advanced industrial design into a work of art that critically and poetically reflects on the relationship between global warming and the automotive industry. The BMW H2R race car, a hydrogen-powered vehicle, was developed to attain speed records while pursuing a sustainable future based on the use of regenerative fuel.
Eliasson has removed the car’s outer shell and replaced it with a complex, translucent skin made of steel mesh, reflective steel panels, and many layers of ice. Heavily weighted by its frozen mantle and immobilized in a room-size, chilled microclimate, the car becomes a poignant allegory of our postindustrial moment, at once wondrous and unsettling.
“Eliasson’s transformation of the H2R car is a powerful provocation to design and a reminder of the profound effect design can have on our lives,” Urbach remarks. “He has given us a work that challenges the way we understand cars now and helps point us toward a different future. It’s an experiment, really, as much a social and political intervention as an aesthetic one, and one whose effects will likely be felt for years to come. One can hardly imagine a better place to exhibit this work than SFMOMA, situated in the heart of a region that dedicates equal passion to driving and to environmental politics.”
Eliasson’s life-size steel-and-ice-covered automobile, like his overall body of work, evokes multiple associations. First, it reflects the artist’s long-standing interest in natural phenomena and the sense of dislocation and awe they can inspire. In this context, the ice also draws our attention to hydrogen, which liquefies and becomes fuel-ready at sub-zero temperatures, as well as to the fuel’s only byproduct: water. Moreover, the ice challenges viewers to think about the planet’s disappearing polar regions, the glaciers and ice caps now threatened by global warming.
“Our movement in space implies friction: not only wind resistance, but also social, physical, and political frictions,” Eliasson comments. “Thus, movement has consequences for self-perception and the way we engage with the world. One can look at the body as a mobile vessel or a vehicle that changes the parameters of time and space. In driving a car, one obviously also negotiates the way time-space is constructed. What I find so interesting in the research on movement and environmentally sustainable energy is the fact that it enhances our sense of responsibility in how we as individuals navigate in a world defined by plurality and polyphony.”
Widely heralded as one of the most important artists of his generation, Eliasson nimbly merges art, science, and natural phenomena to create multisensory experiences that engage the viewer as an active participant. Born in Demark in 1967 to Icelandic parents, he is best known for his alluring, site-specific installations that harness optical cognition and recontextualize meteorological elements such as light, wind, temperature, and especially water, in all its various stages. He electrified the art world in 2003 with The weather project—a gigantic artificial sun installed inside the Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern. Made primarily with light, mirrors, and mist, the immersive environment provided a highly sensory experience that few museumgoers are likely to forget. For some 15 years, in fact, Eliasson has been making similarly innovative works on a variety of scales. From indoor rainbows to backward-flowing waterfalls to walk-in kaleidoscopes, his uniquely participatory works examine the boundary between the organic and the artificial. At once extraordinary and familiar, Eliasson’s art is intentionally simple in construction but thrilling to behold, sparking profound, visceral reactions intended to heighten one’s experience of the everyday.
After more than two years in development, and many form studies and technical experiments, Your mobile expectations: BMW H2R project will have its official public debut at SFMOMA. The piece will be constructed on-site inside an 800-square-foot custom-made cooling unit in SFMOMA’s architecture and design galleries that will preserve the car’s icy skin. Fitted with Eliasson’s steel-mesh and reflective-steel covering, the stripped-down car frame will be sprayed with 260 gallons of water over the course of several days to gradually create layers of ice. Lit from within and glowing in its frozen atmosphere, the resultant work measures more than 4 feet high, 18 feet long, and 7 feet wide. Viewers enter the environment in limited numbers to enjoy an intimate, immersive, and social engagement with the artwork—a fundamental aspect of Eliasson’s art.
“The work is so much about an experience,” Urbach continues. “You go into a cold space with a small group, almost like a little expedition. There you encounter something you’ve never seen before that is completely magical. At the same time, it’s a serious and trenchant critique that leaves one with plenty to think about.”
Accompanying the artwork is a short film that offers a behind-the-scenes view of Eliasson’s team at work on Your mobile expectations: BMW H2R project, as well as two seminars that took place in his Berlin studio in conjunction with the project, the first in June 2006 and the second a year later. These seminars brought together more than 40 scholars, artists, architects, scientists, and other experts to discuss this and other Eliasson projects and their relation to various artistic, social, political, and environmental issues. The film further demonstrates the degree to which Eliasson’s studio, a large workshop composed of many specialists, functions as a site of research, a space of debate, and a sphere of social action.
Your mobile expectations: BMW H2R project will be accompanied by a fully illustrated book of the same title published by Lars Müller Publishers and featuring Eliasson in conversation with various architects and scientists (available spring 2008).
Your tempo: Olafur Eliasson is presented in conjunction with a separate exhibition also organized by SFMOMA. Curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn, in close collaboration with the artist, Take your time: Olafur Eliasson (September 8, 2007 through February 24, 2008) marks the first major U.S. survey of Eliasson’s projects from 1993 to the present, and will travel nationally following its San Francisco debut. An independent, yet complementary exhibition, the car presentation will resonate with the survey show at SFMOMA, refracting its overarching themes through this single project.
The BMW Art Car Collection
Established in 1975, the BMW Art Car Collection now includes 16 works by prominent artists—including David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol—each making a unique artistic statement about the appearance and meaning of cars in our time. It was the French racing driver Hervé Poulain who first commissioned an artist—his friend Alexander Calder—to paint his BMW racecar in the early 1970s, and this was the spark that led BMW to develop the Art Car program. Apart from being permanently displayed at the BMW Museum in Munich, cars from the collection have been exhibited by numerous museums and galleries worldwide, including the Louvre in Paris, the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao.
In April 2005, BMW selected Eliasson for its 16th Art Car commission, with input from an international board of curators comprising Bruce W. Ferguson, dean of Columbia University in New York; Pi Li from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Peking; Suzanne Pagé, director of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Larry Rinder, dean of California College of the Arts in San Francisco; Donna de Salvo, chief curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; and Carla Schulz-Hoffmann, director of the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.
Your tempo: Olafur Eliasson is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and is generously supported by BMW.
Through its devotion to artistic endeavors, BMW aims to support activities that promote an intercultural dialogue, and is currently involved in more than 100 cultural events, programs, and organizations worldwide. BMW Group Cultural Communications recognizes that creative freedom is just as much a guarantee of groundbreaking work in art as it is in any commercial enterprise. With this latest project by Eliasson, BMW continues its innovative cooperation with artists while exploring the complex social and environmental issues that attend to producing and driving cars today.