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Sparkling new jewel in Sculpture Park

5/14/2014

Olafur Eliasson’s Panoramic Awareness Pavilion, made of 2013
glass, metal and light,
is now part of
Des Moines Art Center’s permanent collections on display at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Photo courtesy Rich Sanders

Olafur Eliasson’s Panoramic Awareness Pavilion, made of 2013
glass, metal and light,
is now part of
Des Moines Art Center’s permanent collections on display at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Photo courtesy Rich Sanders

The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park received an early present as its fifth birthday approaches this September. Olafur Eliasson joined a list of 21 other celebrated artists in Western Gateway Park with a ceremony commemorating the installation of his “Panoramic Awareness Pavilion.”

Olafur is a very big deal. The Danish-Icelandic artist built his reputation by working on epic sculptures and installations that manipulate the elements to transform the experience of looking at art into something more interactive. His studio in Berlin, Germany, in a former brewery, is usually called the “laboratory of spatial research.” His various works have often been collaborations with some of the world’s most famous architects. Olafur’s studio-laboratory employs 30 architects, engineers and craftsmen testing possible installations.

The results of their research have delighted millions. “The Weather Project,” in London’s Tate Gallery, filled the entire Turbine Hall of that museum with ceiling mirrors and hundreds of monochromatic lamps radiating yellow light. Humidifiers dispensed a mist of sugar and water creating fog and shadows reflected from the mirrors. Two million visitors attended that six-month exhibition, a record attendance. A similar project in Beijing used hundreds of florescent lights to create grids of red, green and blue zones.

His “Your Black Horizon,” at the Venice Biennale, covered the grounds of a monastery on an island with a pavilion consisting of a square room painted black with a single source of illumination, a thin, continuous line of light set into all four walls of the room at viewers’ eye-level, serving as a horizontal division between above and below. Later this sculpture was reopened on the island of Lopud, Croatia, near Dubrovnik.

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In “New York City Waterfalls,” Olafur built a series of 90- to 120-foot tall waterfalls in New York Harbor. Last year he presented “Moon” with legendary Chinese dissident and artist Ai Weiwei. That consisted of an open digital platform allowing users to draw an enormous replica of the moon with their Web browsers. That was considered a major statement of freedom of speech and creative collaboration. “Eye See You” was a series of lamps installed in the Christmas windows of all Louis Vuitton stores. Such lamps were sold at the stores in New York City, and all proceeds were donated to 121 Ethiopia, a foundation established by Olafur and his wife to improve the lives of Ethiopian children.

Landing an installation by this giant is a major coup for the city. While in Des Moines, the artist explained that the name pavilion derives from the French word for “butterfly” — papillon.

“The point is to encourage drifting, like a butterfly drifts from one flower to another,” he said. “It is in the tradition of Old English gardens where walking is more improvisational than in French Formal Gardens.”

He also said that the Pappajohn Park attracted him.

“A city is a map of places — any place can be an oasis and exercise the kind of generosity we hope a city represents,” he explained during a brief visit to Des Moines. “Translating such an exercise into a public space is important work. Democratic public spaces like this should never be taken for granted. People are fighting and dying for such today.”

The work he left here is a large light sculpture that is best appreciated from a distance, as well as a pavilion that invites one inside to explore. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

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