An ambitious show in Vienna pairs older works by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson with new pieces based around revealing dichotomies

On November 20, the newest exhibition by one of the most important artists on the contemporary scene, Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, opened in Vienna. The show occupies two exceptional locations in the city: the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy (who was, just like Eliasson, a man of tremendous vision who loved to embellish but also to discover, to invent, to publish, to create, and to provoke) and TBA21, with a project entitled BAROQUE BAROQUE.

The Austrian institution, led by Francesca von Habsburg, is one of the cutting-edge spots to enjoy contemporary art projects in the capital, but also an institution able to build connections with diverse locations both in Austria and abroad. TBA21 has established itself internationally as an institution that is able to move in different directions, participating, for example, in many biennials by supporting the works of artists, or establishing new connections between art and architecture by organising exhibitions in specially designed buildings. Its involvement in the art world goes far beyond its collection and the act of collecting.

In this case, TBA21, in collaboration with the Belvedere Museum — also based in Vienna — has invited Eliasson to develop a special project that also involves holdings from other important international collections, such as that of Juan and Patricia Vergez in Buenos Aires. The project was born from an ambitious collaborative work between those prestigious museums and aims to bring together and reconnect some of Eliasson’s most distinguished artworks. Alongside these older pieces, new site-specific interventions accentuate and embellish the ensemble, establishing a dialogue between the volubility of the baroque architecture and the modulating perceptions provided by the artist’s pieces.

“I find it inspiring that the baroque exhibited such confidence in the fluidity of the boundaries between models of reality and, simply, reality,” Eliasson says. “The presentation of my works at the Winter Palace is based on trust in the possibility of constructing reality according to our shared dreams and desires and on faith in the idea that constructions and models are as real as anything.”

Starting from the title, the baroque is here understood as a prolific process of constant reformulation; the tension between light and dark, knowledge and speculation, and rationality and spirituality opens up unexpected, “other” spaces of potentiality and transformation. Ephemeral materials — including light, reflections, water, wave patterns and air — are brought into conversation with the outstanding exhibition venues and with viewers, who become protagonists in the artist’s engaging scenarios.

In fact, Eliasson is an artist who has worked on a number of different controversial oppositions during his career. He has melted the concept of science to merge it with art in his sculptures. He has worked open-air environments, creating a blur between art and nature — creating four artificial waterfalls in the Hudson River in New York, for example — and he has brought an iceberg into a gallery space. He has created a studio that is more similar to an engineer’s laboratory than a typical artist’s atelier. He has improved the lives of the poorest children the planet with his poetic and meaningful line of solar-powered products, Little Sun. He has transformed the Tate Modern into an environmental machine with The Weather Project, one of the most acclaimed contemporary art projects in recent decades. With the exhibition BAROQUE BAROQUE, Eliasson brings to the Austrian capital a number of projects able to question — through a carefully calculated series of oppositions — conceptual pairs such as object and viewer, or apparatus and experience. And we love it.

BAROQUE BAROQUE continues at The Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy and TBA21 until March 6, 2016.