Exit Through the Riverbed

Olafur Eliasson's new museum exhibit will leave you thinking and splashing.

Olafur Eliasson doesn’t mind if you touch his art. You can even step on it, if you want. For Eliasson, who is known for his immersive, multisensory works, engagement is key.


The Danish-Icelandic artist’s latest work, Riverbed, which opens today at the Louisiana, Denmark’s Museum of Modern Art, is a three-part installation, featuring an actual, traversable riverbed that Eliasson constructed for his first solo show at the institution. Visitors are encouraged to trek across the wet, rocky landscape, which stretches throughout the museum’s vast south wing, as an alternative to the typical footpath they would take through the arts establishment.

“What I’m interested in with my work at the Louisiana isn’t really that you experience an object or an artwork. I am interested in how you connect this landscape to the rest of the world and ultimately, how you experience yourself within it,” Eliasson says. “When we’re in our familiar surroundings, in our circle of family and friends, our senses are very finely tuned, but the further away we get from the local context, the cruder the sensing becomes. I wonder if our focus on the atmospheric can give us a relationship with something that is very abstract and far away.”

In short, Eliasson wants his audience to actively participate in Riverbed’s exploration of nature, architecture, and art, and contemplate how individual, local sensory experiences inform people’s global perspectives. He specifically created this tangible interplay between outside and inside spaces in hopes that it would encourage people to be more present with his art, which he calls “a reality machine.”

Model Room

In the museum’s north wing, the second portion of Riverbed displays a collection of around 400 colorful geometric models created in collaboration with Icelandic artist Einar Thorsteinn. This ‘Model Room’ offers a glimpse into Eliasson’s creative and intellectual workshop. The Louisiana’s large hall houses the third and final installment of the exhibit, featuring three of Eliasson’s recent video works, all focused on the “almost sculptural approach to body movement in space.”

Combating the stereotype of museums as cold, sterile institutions, Eliasson’s work at the Louisiana is a testament to his belief that a cultural center should be an “open, vibrant place that involves body and soul,” as states his exhibition description—the goal being a totally immersive experience. By tapping more deeply into our senses, Eliasson hopes to root us in the moment, challenging the way we view the museum, ourselves, and, ultimately, the world.

Riverbed is currently on display through January 4, 2015.

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