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Review: Olafur Eliasson brings planetary magic back down to Earth at his mesmerizing exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Review: Olafur Eliasson brings planetary magic back down to Earth at his mesmerizing exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
Olafur Eliasson, “Retinal flare space,” 2018, color-effect filter glass (cyan, magenta, yellow), projector, stainless steel and motors, installation dimensions variable. (Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles)

If you’re too busy to watch the full moon rise just after dusk, and can’t get away from work to see a solar eclipse, head over to Olafur Eliasson’s mesmerizing exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Los Angeles. Titled “The speed of your attention,” the four-gallery delight will put you in mind of such planetary magic even if you’re in a rush and don’t have time to lie back and contemplate the magnificence of the cosmos.

The DNA of the Icelandic-Danish artist’s exhibition can be traced back to the Light and Space artists who put Southern California on the artistic map in the 1960s and to dance club culture from the 1990s, when disco balls spun overhead and chill rooms provided respite from the storm raging on the main floor. It’s an impressive lineage, deftly weaving together the conviction that the senses are meant to be stimulated and the mind made to be expanded.

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No matter where you begin your trip through Eliasson’s wonder-inducing adventure, you’ll find yourself revisiting works just to see how you see them differently after you’ve seen others.

In a small gallery to the left of the front door hang three gorgeous watercolors: two painted on large sheets of paper and the third on a log. The cylindrical piece of driftwood stands vertically in the far corner, like a totem or sentinel or architectural ghost. Its water-smoothed surface has been saturated the same way the surfaces of the works on paper have: in subtle gradations that evoke sunrises and sunsets glistening off calm bodies of water.

The main gallery features another driftwood watercolor (in the near corner) and three riveting wall-works. Each is made of circles and ovals of colored glass that Eliasson has inset in one another, sometimes concentrically but more often obliquely. That compositional shift gives their literal flatness great spatial depth. It also suggests that they are in motion. More important, their textured, reflective surfaces catch light in a way that makes you want to move around them, catching reflections of the other pieces in the room.

The remaining two galleries, both darkened, steal the show.

Olafur Eliasson, “Straight back.”
Olafur Eliasson, “Straight back.” (Jens Ziehe)

“Retinal flare space” consists of a row of three glass disks hanging from the ceiling at eye level. They rotate slowly as a projector shines a circle of light through them. Softly colored circles and slices of illumination travel around the room, emerging from and disappearing into the bright orb of projected light, where the three colors (cyan, magenta and yellow) mix and eclipse. Eliasson strikes just the right balance between fast and slow, creating an entrancing experience that opens onto infinity.

The five pieces that hang from the ceiling in a rear gallery resemble — and function — like lights. Each is a 3-D stained glass window illuminated from within so that its stainless steel frame casts patterned shadows on the walls, floor and ceiling. Together, the five metallic-tinted sculptures trace the step-by-step transformations that take place when a cube becomes a sphere — and back again. They also trace the changes that take place when day turns into night — and vice versa.

Your attentiveness does something similar. As it expands and intensifies, time seems to slow down and fly by. That may not be magic, but it’s redemptive and thrilling.

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, 1010 N. Highland Ave., (323) 380-7172, through Dec. 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.tanyabonakdargallery.com

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