In describing “The listening dimension (orbit 1, orbit 2, and orbit 3),” part of Olafur Eliasson’s first solo show in New York in five years, continuing at Tanya Bonakdar through April 22, the press release explains that “the installation reinforces Eliasson’s insistence on actively engaging the viewer in the artwork.” Unfortunately, on a recent Saturday afternoon, that engagement became far too active, as a visitor to the gallery, mesmerized by the illusion created by the three-part work, poked at it, leaving a pretty serious mark that affected the power of the piece. For more than twenty years, Eliasson, who was born in Copenhagen, raised in Iceland and Denmark, and lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin, has been creating mind-blowing works using various combinations of glass, refracted light, mirrors, and metal. “The listening dimension (orbit 1, orbit 2, and orbit 3)” consists of three large, rectangular sheets of silver Mylar from which emerge semicircles of tubes that jut out like rings around Saturn; the arcs are completed in the reflection, making them appear as full circles. Placed on three sides of the room, the work immerses the viewer into a series of repeated, neverending reflections that shimmer far off into the distance. “The listening dimension emerged against the backdrop of the 2016 US elections,” Eliasson says about the installation. “At a time when oversimplification is everywhere, I believe that art can play an important role in creating aesthetic experiences that are both open and complex. Today, in politics, we are bombarded with emotional appeals, often linked to simplistic, polarizing, populist ideas. The arts and culture, on the other hand, provide spaces in which people can disagree and still be together, where they can share individual and collective experiences that are ambiguous and negotiable. At its best, art is an exercise in democracy; it trains our critical capacities for perceiving and interpreting the world. Yet art does not tell us what to do or how to feel, but rather empowers us to find out for ourselves.” (That is true, except when it involves touching something that signs clearly say not to touch.)
Eliasson also melds art and science with “Rainbow bridge,” a row of a dozen globes on stands that seem to change color as you walk past them; depending on your angle of perception, they appear as all black, all silver, all clear, or organized in the colors of the rainbow, from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo to violet. The globes also function as lenses, inverting the reflection of the person on the other side, distorting reality in humorous ways. Once again, do not touch.
Eliasson continues his exploration of light and color, gravity and orientation, natural and technological phenomenon upstairs, where a driftwood compass called “Rouge navigator” leads you to “Midnight sun,” a slightly concave mirror behind which a monofrequency lamp casts a glow that makes it appear that the disc is surrounded by a beautiful, fiery halo. Off in a room by itself, “Colour experiment no. 78” is a grid of seventy-two circular paintings that change color when you turn a light on or off. (This is the only thing in the exhibition that you are actually supposed to touch in order to activate the experience.) The exhibition concludes with “Space resonates regardless of our presence,” a trio of ghostly wall projections made by sending pinpoints of light through a glass lens; the resultant images include multiple colors and an intensely pleasing circularity. In 2008, Eliasson dazzled New York with the wide-ranging “Take Your Time” dual exhibition at MoMA and PS1 as well as “The New York City Waterfalls,” set up along the East River. You should certainly take your time when experiencing “The listening dimension,” which offers visitors a chance to reflect on their place in the universe. Just keep your hands to yourself.