Two years ago, noted artist Olafur Eliasson visited the Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles while it was still under construction. The former Scottish Rite temple on Wilshire Boulevard was being transformed into a museum by art collectors Maurice and Paul Marciano, brothers and cofounders of Guess.
Inside the building’s voluminous theater, which was being stripped of furnishings for temporary exhibitions, Eliasson stood duly impressed.
“He really loved the space and commented, ‘One day I would love to do something here,’" Maurice Marciano says. "I said, ‘I would love that, too. It would be amazing.’”
Marciano offered carte blanche to Eliasson to do what wished, and the Berlin-based artist agreed to an installation: a mesmerizing kinetic light piece,“Reality projector,” which opens Thursday.
The work builds on some of his favorite themes: light, space, time and the experience of changing perspectives. As visitors enter the darkened space, they will see slowly shifting blocks of colored light projected onto a large screen. The illumination is created by two spotlights moving on elevated tracks suspended from roof trusses, with the beams occasionally passing through colored gels mounted in sections of truss. The gels are the primary colors of light — magenta, yellow and cyan — which sometimes combine to make other colors. Meanwhile, light also reflects off the gels into a shimmering pattern, like pools of water, onto the wall behind.
“For me it has something to do with early movies,” Eliasson says in a phone interview. “What we are watching is a kind of a film.” He has produced an ambient soundtrack in collaboration with Jónsi of the Icelandic avant-rock band Sigur Rós.
Born in Denmark, Eliasson spent boyhood holidays with relatives in Iceland and became particularly attuned to light during long summer days and long winter nights. The Marciano installation continues his exploration of light and its effects, with a nod to Los Angeles and its history of motion pictures.
“I’ve been coming to the city for 20 years now,” he says, adding that as an art student at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, he learned of the work of Southern California stalwarts such as Robert Irwin, Larry Bell and John McCracken. “I identified with these artists more than the East Coast artists," he says. "I think the idea of dematerialization was always a little underrepresented in art. As a young artist, that was one of the important pillars of my work.”
Today, Eliasson is celebrated — and widely collected — internationally. (Maurice Marciano has two of his works.) In 2003, he represented Denmark at the Venice Biennale, and in 2007, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art opened the first U.S. survey of his work, “Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson," which traveled to the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York and then the Dallas Museum of Art. A year later, he designed monumentally scaled waterfalls, placed in four positions along New York Harbor, in installations that cost more than $15 million.
In "Reality projector," as with many of his works, Eliasson believes the key is taking time to experience it.
"The person is the co-author of the narrative rather than a consumer of the reality,” he says. “My work has always been about trusting the viewer to project their personal narrative into the work.”
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Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Reality projector’
Where: Marciano Art Foundation, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
When: Thursdays-Sundays, through August
Admission: Free (reservations recommended)
Information: (424) 204-7555, marcianoartfoundation.org