Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Einar Thorsteinn

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

March 22, 2011

I recently received these photos from Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon, who took them while visiting Einar Thorsteinn in Olafur Eliasson’s Berlin studio. Readers of this blog will remember that Einar is an architect, mathematician, and visionary, a protégée of Buckminster Fuller, who collaborates with Olafur on his geometric constructions and the Model Room, which has been exhibited widely (see labels below).  amazing photographs of the Icelandic volcanic eruption I posted at the time.

September 17, 2010
Since Terry Perk is here from England to edit, with cinematographer Erica Spizz, our short film about the collaboration between Olafur Eliasson and Einar Thorsteinn, this is a good moment to post some photos from Olafur's Berlin show--his first--at the Martin Gropius-Bau exhibition hall. 

The Model Room, reinstalled:

A room of fog that changes colors:

December 25, 2009
Merry Christmas! Keeping up-to-date with the geometric adventures of my friend, Einar Thorsteinn, who lives in Berlin, this is his latest creation: a configuration he defined in 1978 but has just now built. He gave me an explanation about expanding on the transformation in geometry Buckminster Fuller called "Jitterbug" (sometimes when Einar tries to explain things to me it makes my brain hurt), but I just think it’s beautiful—as did Olafur Eliasson, who will be showing a work based on it at a Madrid gallery in January.

July 22, 2009

Which comes first, the artist or the landscape? I remember being profoundly disappointed when I went to Aix-en-Provence and discovered that the countryside looked exactly like a Cezanne. Damn! He just painted what was in front of him--although he did elaborate a bit on Mount St. Victoire, which was punier than I expected. And Venice looks just like Canaletto, Paris like that rainy day Caillebotte at the Art Institute in Chicago I've always loved, and while I haven't been to China, a friend told me that the mountains and mist look just like--Chinese paintings. So now that I live on the edge of the Hudson River Valley I think a lot about the painters of the Hudson River School and how they, too, were painting just what was in front of them. Or were they? Perhaps I see it the way I see it because I've been shown it through their eyes.

I thought about this a lot on our trip to Iceland, where we were shooting background landscape for our film about Olafur Eliasson and Einar Thorsteinn’s collaborations. Terry, who did his Ph.D. thesis on Olafur’s work, was visiting Iceland for the first time, and when he got there exclaimed, “Olafur is just appropriating the landscape!” Not that Olafur pretends to do anything else—it’s possible to trace almost everything he does back to Iceland in one way or another—but this time it was even more clear to me. Þingvellir is that most famous site in Iceland where the Vikings established their parliament back in 930 A.D. Now a national park, it is edged by a wall of black rock interspersed at intervals with waterfalls of various size and looking at it on this visit it was easy to imagine the black rock as the New York City skyline as seen from the East River, where Olafur placed his waterfalls. Americans expect waterfalls to be spectacular, but in Iceland, while of course some are spectacular, many, as in Þingvellir are simply columns of water whose movement animates the otherwise static rocky landscape.

I get annoyed when people apologize for photographs, but this is the best I have of the cliff line with waterfalls at Þingvellir, taken around 11:00 at night with an overcast sky. At least you get the idea. I haven't yet got the hang of taking photographs in Iceland, but it's something I look forward to working on.

Readers of this blog know how passionate I am about keeping the art experience free from any interference that attempts to interpret the work for viewers or bombard them with information that gives the impression that art is about, well, information. This is a philosophy I share with Robert Irwin and Olafur, who was greatly influenced by Irwin (did I get the idea from them or was I attracted to them because of it?—another question that can never be answered). No wonder I’m so comfortable in Iceland, because here is an entire country that appears to share my aversion to signage. The first time I went to Þingvellir I drove right past because there was a road sign but no more. No WELCOME TO ÞINGVILLIR, HOME OF THE PARLIAMENT, or its equivalent in Icelandic, not even a billboard with the park’s name on it. I also drove past the visitor’s center because there were no signs, no advertisements, nothing. The only way you’d know that the building, which appeared commercial, housed hospitality facilities would be to go look in the window. I love that. Because of course it is the Visitor Center--it's the only building within 50 km and it's where Þingvellir is on the map, but my American brain has been conditioned to look not for places, but for labels. And once you get into the park there are no plaques explaining what you are looking at here and there. You can have your own experience, and if you want to know something you can get a guidebook. Anyway, it’s an essential philosophy that Olafur seems to share with his favorite country, something to ask him about one day.

The only sign I saw at Gulfoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. The cloverleaf symbol indicates an official site of natural or historic interest.

And now I’m off to California, causing a friend to grumble something about my carbon footprint. Well I don’t know if it fully absolves me, but I do grow all my own vegetables.

I am proud of my garden but all I did was put in some seeds and keep the weeds out. I find it difficult to take credit for nature.

May 5, 2009
I’m loving Chicago! Having a home town guy in the White House seems to have caused it to shed its Second City inferiority complex (which always drove me crazy) and stand proud. The only negative is the hysteria over the swine flu “epidemic,” which has schools closing and gatherings being cancelled. I’ve always washed my hands before meals—as my mom taught me to—and carried a little bottle of Purell with me to make it easier, silently marveling at my New York friends who’d get out of a taxi or the subway and sit down to dinner (and sometimes prepare food—yuck!) without doing so. Maybe the good side of this is that it will make everyone more conscious of something they should have been doing all along. Meanwhile I use my Purell more surreptitiously, because I don’t want to add to the fear-mongering, and am frequenting Mexican restaurants (so good in Chicago!), because they probably can use the business.

I thought Art Chicago was pretty boring—only a handful of really good galleries represented—but, to my surprise, loved the Antiques Fair a few floors below. Meanwhile the Olafur Eliasson exhibition at the MCA (through September 13th) has caused a lot of excitement—as I mentioned, so much better than at MoMA and PS 1—and the the pairing with the Buckminster Fuller show (through August 9th) is genius, because you can see the lineage. As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, Einar Thorsteinn, who works with Olafur (“helps me with models and helps me to think,” as Olafur said in his artist’s talk), was a protégé of Fuller, and so here you can look at Fuller’s models and then go downstairs and see how Olafur and Einar have taken off on them in their own models, made them more fanciful, and then elaborated on them in large works. There are also interpretations of Fuller’s work by sculptor Kenneth Snelson, which are gorgeous. I wish I had images to illustrate all of this, but I was only able to photograph Eliasson’s exhibition while accompanied by a representative of the MCA, and had not made an appointment to shoot the Fuller show.

Let me go off a little bit on this policy of no photography, which is shared by the Whitney (but not by MoMA), and the reason I didn’t write about Jenny Holzer’s show here, which I loved. Yes, I could have gotten images from the museum, but if they didn’t reflect my vision, I’d just be doing P.R. I could understand it in the old days, the concern that a lousy shot taken on someone’s Brownie could end up in a magazine as representative of the artist’s work, or that people would produce coffee mugs and T-shirts with a pirated image. But today, when the influence of print is lessening and word-of-mouth rules, why would you want to insist on stopping someone from taking a picture with her iPhone and emailing her excitement to all of her friends? As for artists, photography is a way of recording what is important to them—not some commercial photographer—ideas that they may want to incorporate into their own work. As we all know, major museum exhibitions have an influence on the art that comes after, and to limit that in any way seems counter-productive.

Museums seem to be catering more and more to the casual visitor while distancing themselves from artists. First there’s the entrance fee, which limits when you can see the work (in crowds on free night). I tried to get a friend who’s a professor of art in Iowa into MoMA on my press card with me, and was told she could come in for free if she had a group of students with her. But even if she were teaching in New York, doesn’t she have to see the show first, to decide if it’s something she wants to bring her students to? I know so many artists who choose to pass on major exhibitions because of the fee, and often if you find a good show, you want to see it more than once. In Chicago, no doubt, many artists can afford to join both the MCA and the Art Institute (or “INSTITVTE” as it reads on their Web site—yikes!), but in New York, with a plethora of major museums, cost becomes prohibitive. I propose that the New York museums get together on an “artist’s card” that would allow entrance to all the museums for a yearly fee of $125 or so. Verifying that someone is an artist is easier now than it was back in the day when I had to prove my professional status to the city in order to live in SoHo—it can be anyone who has a Web site featuring their work, or is featured on a gallery Web site. Such a policy would increase not only traffic but word-of-mouth.

That said, here are some random shots from the Eliasson exhibition:

Your eye activity field, 2009, oil on canvas (detail). Created for the MCA's lobby and atrium, this series of 300 canvases (approximately 6" x 14") represents the 300 nanometers of the color spectrum that can be seen by the human eye

Reimagine, 2002: spotlights cast shiftin, overlapping rectalinear patters across the gallery wall, creating an illusion of distance and depth.
Beauty, 1993: a spotlight shining obliquely through a curtain of fine mist.

From the model room
One-way colour tunnel, 2007 (detail)

One-way colour tunnel (detail) with view of Inverted Berlin sphere, 2005

Inverted Berlin sphere, 2005, with a detail of Multiple Grotto, 2004 (left), which incorporates elements of the model seen above.
Colour sphere embracer, 2005, colored glass rings suspended from the ceiling nestle inside one another while a motor simultaneously rotates each in a different direction.

December 19, 2008

This morning at breakfast, with my houseguests Einar and Manuela, the conversation turned to elections, Nixon, and then Nixon‘s summit meeting with Pompidou in Reykjavik in 1973. At the time Einar and other young Icelandic architects were concerned that the city’s early timber houses were being destroyed in that era’s international craze for “urban renewal,” the excuse being that the buildings were derelict. To demonstrate that their shabbiness was only superficial, Einar and 60 to 80 friends went to work on a row of houses scheduled for demolition, painting facades and replacing windows. It just so happened that soon after, Nixon came to Reykjavik for the summit, and wanted to take a stroll around the city. As they walked down this street of newly pristine houses Nixon said to his host, “I see that you take good care of your traditional architecture here in Iceland”—and after that, of course, there could be no talk of demolishing them. The buildings stand to this day.

When Buckminster Fuller visited Reykjavik two years later, Einar told him this story. “I’m happy to know this,” Bucky said, “because I like to think that everyone has some good in them and I’ve never heard anything positive about Nixon.”

Einar writes about this, his first visit with Fuller, in his upcoming book about his 40-year quest to find what he has named the “Fang,” which is, in geometric terms “a space-filler for five-fold symmetry space.” Below, Einar’s geometry at work in one of Olafur Eliasson’s installations, Your spiral view (2002), which I photographed at the Kunstmuseum in Wolfsburg, Germany, in 2004, and is now part of the Beyeler Foundation collection.

December 15, 2008
My houseguest, Einar, happened to find in a pile of magazines, an issue of TIME I’d saved for him, the Mind and Body Special Issue: The Brain, a User’s Guide of January, 2007. Looking through it he commented that not only were some of the ideas out-of-date, the entire magazine, from typeface to illustrations to advertisements, looked as if it was not two years but two decades old—a startling example how quickly things are changing. He also found this prescient article by historian Richard Brookhiser entitled “What’s a Resume Got to Do with It?” about one Barack Obama, the then “freshest face in the early lineup of presidential candidates,” which concludes:

Statesmanship is an art, which means that there is always room for inspiration, and for grace. We are right to look for a record of pre-eminent ability when we can find it. But the basic doctrine of republican government, that all men are created equal, can be a surprise bonus for some leaders, as well as a guarantee of rights for all of us. Sometimes greatness appears in unlikely places, even in ordinary pols from Illinois.

My friend, Valerye, sent me this:

December 9, 2008
Einar and Manuela are coming to visit next week, and in their honor I’m posting the pictures of their home that I took in October. I met Einar—mathematician, architect, artist, and all round visionary—on my first visit to Olafur Eliasson’s studio in 2004 and a couple of years later he and his wife Manuela, a jewelry designer, took me on a tour of “alternative” Iceland (or so Einar called it—I thought all of Iceland was alternative). Their small house outside Berlin fairly bursts with the results of their combined creativity, and being in it you just want to make things. Now that I’m posting the Art Vent House Report #3, I’m noticing that the homes that interest me most are chock full o’ stuff, while in my own domicile I'm manically minimal. I’m also aware that although I’m a painter, I tend to write most about installation and sculpture. Hmmm. Let’s not make that mean anything.

Einar's studio:

The office:

The living room:

The dining area:

Einar at work: