Kat Murrell
Life and Land

Exhibitions by Olafur Eliasson and Cy Twombly in Chicago

By - Sep 8th, 2009 11:18 pm
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Olafur Eliasson: Take Your Time at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Olafur Eliasson, Beauty, 1993.  On view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, through September 13. Image, courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Olafur Eliasson, Beauty, 1993. On view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Closes 9/13. Image, courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s work is an experience. Literally. Take Your Time is an exhibition that you walk through, under and within. It is part science experiment, part philosophical show-and-tell, plus a good measure of calming, meditative stillness.

Whereas the conventional art exhibition has numerous pieces sharing gallery space like roommates, Eliasson’s installations are solos, each inhabiting their own area. The space, the visuals, the sensory experience becomes the art, and the viewer is enveloped by it all. In works such as Beauty, Eliasson is a master of altered states through his orchestration of light, reflections, even water, to create ethereal conditions. Beauty is like the presence of a ghost or a cloud.

But Take Your Time is not all smoke and mirrors. The most charming, oddball moment is found with Ventilator, an airy empty room inhabited by a round fan swinging from a cable overhead. There’s no danger of decapitation here, but the perpetual motion of this whirring thing flying around the room is whimsical and fawning. It is as though the small fan in the big room is trying to fulfill its duty and cool all heads coming through.

Part of Eliasson’s modus operandi is to create situations of interaction between the natural world and people. His art expands beyond the visual and tactile to the olfactory in the gallery housing Moss Wall. Spongy material, and it is real moss, elegantly drapes the entire wall, creating a curtain of earth tones that softly pools its springy mass onto the floor. It is visually lovely, and a light scent hangs in the air.  Conversations developed among viewers in the room as we collectively tried to pinpoint what the fragrance was reminiscent of – curry, spices, some pungent perfume? A scientist held an impromptu discussion about the moss with her companions and others in the gallery. It’s not often that conversations among strangers naturally bubble up in art exhibitions, but here the shared experience naturally created the space and topic, an easy opening for talking about ideas and opinions. As one woman in the gallery said, “I don’t know why, but it makes me happy.”


Cy Twombly: The Natural World, Selected Works 2000-2007, The Art Institute of Chicago


Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2007. Acrylic on wood. Private Collection. Courtesy, Art Institute of Chicago and Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Mike Bruce.

The American artist Cy Twombly (b. 1928) has been on the scene since the 1950s, following the action-packed practices of Abstract Expressionism (think Jackson Pollock) and concurrent with the coming of age of Neo-Dada and Pop Art (think Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns). Milwaukee Art Museum visitors may be familiar with him for his haunting painting Untitled  (1967). A couple of lonesome rectangles hang together, struggling for warmth and company, and looking for all the world like a boat lost in a cold, gray sea. Haunting and beautiful.

So, what has Twombly been up to lately? Flash forward to this tight exhibition. The opening is something splashy, and you might do a double-take to make sure that you haven’t wandered into something else by mistake, say, an exhibition of works from an exceptional finger-painting class. They’re bright, uncontrolled and overtly joyous in a recklessly abandoned sort of way. Who says professional artists can’t have fun?  Brightness has been a tendency in Twombly’s work all along, though his Blackboard Paintings with their sharp contrasts of dark and light seem to have loomed largest, obscuring this ongoing affection for color. Painted in his home bases of Virginia and Italy, these works were inspired by nature. Their character is like a bunch of gangly wildflowers, retaining the joys of the outdoors and reveling in the messy chaos of their compositions.

The exhibition covers land-related works of sculpture, photography and some especially big paintings. These mammoth canvases are where Twombly really gets down to business. The nature theme continues in the guise of giant peonies and shivering winter seas. In these oil paintings, the intermediary of the brush feels absent; we’re confronted with paint, surface, impact — and BAM! — streaks.

Early in his career, Twombly gained his reputation as a man with a line, and a great one at that. The lines in his work were like raw graffiti scrawls pumped with the postwar verve of the avant-garde. Lines and a handsome scrawl still play a major role, but the expressive quality of his work comes from mark making of all kinds, the repertoires of fine contours, discreetly controlled splotches and the character of the paint itself purposefully dripping down the surface in a final acquiescence to gravity. Haunting, and beautiful.


Olafur Eliasson: Take Your Time
Closes September 13
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
220 E. Chicago Avenue
Tuesdays, 10 am — 8 pm
Wednesdays-Sundays, 10am — 5 pm

Mini-symposium: Art/Science/Spectacle
Museum of Contemporary Art
September 12, 2pm


Cy Twombly: The Natural World, Selected Works 2000–2007
Closes October 11
The Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Avenue
Monday-Wednesday, 10:30 am to 5 pm
Thursday, 10:30 — 8 pm
Friday, 10:30 am — 5 pm
Saturday-Sunday, 10 am — 5 pm

Lecture: Cy Twombly, The Natural World, and the “Nature” of Sculpture
Art Institute of Chicago, Fullerton Hall
September 10, 6-7 pm

Categories: Art, Arts & Culture, VITAL

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