i would have taken my time, but i was chasing my two-year-old

Today we went with the Murgisteads to SFMOMA see Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson. I went in without any expectations or context at all, a state of unspoiled grace I shall now deny to you, my beloved readers.

We walked out of the lifts into Room for one colour, a lobby lit with yellow lights, the effect of which was to turn everyone greyscale. It was eerie and awesome, like living and talking to each other in newspaper photographs or sepia prints.

“We’re in the past!” I told Jack. I looked down at my beloved brown leather bag and my brain almost refused to see that the colour had been leached out of it. The kids looked especially startling, as they had all been dressed in pink and orange and purple and blue and green the instant before. When we walked out of this room my eyes remained grateful for colour for minutes and minutes afterwards, and everything looked vivid.

Next came Yellow versus purple, a room with a white spotlight shining at a large transparent disk so that it projected yellow and reflected blue lights onto opposite walls. After that was Model room, absolutely crammed with miniatures for larger projects. Didn’t get to look at these much because the children towed me into 360 degree room for all colours in which a circular, translucent wall had been built in an almost complete circle about eight feet high. You stood inside the circle and the colours slowly shifted and changed. We started out white so everyone looked like the subjects in an Elsa Dorfman portrait. Then the colours shifted to blush and lavender and lime and sky, so the vividness of that light was superimposed on the existing-vividness of the kids and their clothes. Abundance.

Even more beautiful was a brand-new site-specific piece called One way colour tunnel, built over the bridge that crosses SFMOMA’s atrium. This had triangular glass panels in sunset colours – blue, royal purple, pink, apricot and gold – offset against each other in a black steel frame. As you walked through the tunnel you got the kaleidoscope effect of the changing lights, plus your own reflection multiplied many times and idealized by the softening and flattering effect of the colours.

I missed a bunch of stuff when Julia escaped and had to be pursued through three installations. We reconvened in Notion motion, a darkened room with a screen on which was projected the surface of a hidden pool of water. If you bounced on certain floorboards you could make ripples in the water, but the effect was subtle and obscure. Which made it insanely fun to turn a couple of corners and find the water pool and the light and the back of the screen, with the mechanism all laid bare.

Multiple grotto deserves a better name, looking as it does like a twelve-foot, three-dimensional Star of Bethlehem or similarly menacing Doomsday Device. It’s designed as a sphere made of kaleidoscopes; you stand inside it and the shiny inner surfaces of the projecting triangular prisms reflect the light of the gallery outside. The walls here were lined with Eliasson’s very disciplined photographs of Icelandic landscapes; horizons, waterfalls, islands, a single valley over the course of a day. Their formal beauty reminded me a lot of some of Jeremy’s photographs of urban and natural patterns; that probably makes me sound excessively fond, but there it is.

Next was Moss wall, exactly what it sounds like, an entire gallery wall of reindeer moss; then Space reversal, two windows, one projecting out of SFMOMA and the other inside its walls, and when you stepped or peered into the window mirrors reflected you to infinity in every direction.

My preference for interactive, witty, Burning Man-style art over the smug dreck that’s sold at auction these days is a matter of historical record. What I particularly loved about this exhibition was its combination of funny, playful installations that the kids could fully grok, with a formal and technical mastery you don’t often see in the desert but would kind of like to be able to expect from your major artists. This is a generous, insightful and profound body of work, and it runs through February 24. If I were Bjork I would totally be dating this guy instead.

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