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Studio Olafur Eliasson - A book review

Outsized and very voluminous books that are both impressive in format and unhandy in use are called "elephant folio". They certainly are eye-catching and heavy. In recent years, Taschen has dedicated more attention to this book format and published some of these bibliophilic volumes - e.g. about Nobuyoshi Araki, Helmut Newton, Diego Rivera and Michelangelo. A rather rare achievement for a publisher that could be realised thanks to the personal passion of publisher Benedikt Taschen for art in general, and specifically for contemporary art and architecture. Very recently, the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson has been honoured with such a large format book. The publishing date of "Studio Olafur Eliasson - An Encycplopedia" was well chosen since he is causing quite a stir these days with his popular outdoor project "The New York City Waterfalls", not only within the art scene.

But only a few of his works have had such a broad impact as the artificial waterfalls that the 41 year old artist has installed at the East River in Manhattan and Brooklyn ( . Most of his works are conceived for galleries, art associations, museums, collections and temporary exhibitions and remain within the close circle of an elitist art community. This is due to the objects' character, to environments and to space installations that adjoin physical experiments, architecture and landscaping, and are often site-specific. When an exhibition is finished, a lot of these works are torn down, and all that is left of them, are memories, press articles and photographs or films. So it is a stroke of luck that Eliasson and Taschen tried to and secured the collection and won the art historian Philip Ursprung over as author. The result is a wonderful, illustrated book that meets both visual and intellectual requirements. In more than 500 pages, an artistic oeuvre unfolds that, in its richness and its power, might only be known to insiders so far, and that clearly belongs to the most exciting of contemporary art.

In alphabetical order, Eliasson has conceived 26 chapters, of which each is assigned to a notion; based on this notion, excursions to his creation are made. These concepts - architecture, beauty, colour, democracy, experiment etc - are doors leading to the artist's studio, to his ideas, his concepts, to accomplished artworks and unfinished experiments, to collections of material and to the archive. The plentifulness of text and images is excessive yet not exhausting, and it proves how difficult it is to fully capture the creations of this artist in all its facets. Helpful to this purpose are the conversations between Eliasson and Ursprung that are, by the way, also attributed to the letters, and that enable the author or initiator of all these creations to have his say.

The book begins with a detailed essay by Philip Ursprung who writes about Eliasson's Berlin studio and describes precisely how the works are explored, developed and produced there. The introduction provides an insight into the studio- and laboratory-like nature of this art enterprise where about fifty staff members are working these days - ranging from architect and engineer to artist, archivist and secretary. It becomes clear how important, for Eliasson, a committed team is that partly develops its own ideas, and without its help, he could barely maintain his strong position in contemporary art. It is the team that makes Studio Eliasson so successful, and that is now honoured with a monument in the form of this book.

Jens Pepper


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