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Olafur Eliasson's First Major Permanent Public Commission in the United States Nears Completion at Bard College

The parliament of reality opens May 15 and 16, 2009

Mark Primoff
The parliament of reality

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Four years in the making, Olafur Eliasson’s first major outdoor public art project in the United States will be officially inaugurated on Saturday, May 16th. Entitled The parliament of reality, Eliasson’s man-made island is surrounded by a 30-foot circular lake, 24 trees, and wild grasses. The 100-foot diameter island is composed of a cut-granite, compass-like floor pattern (based upon meridian lines and navigational charts), on top of which 30 river-washed boulders create an outdoor seating area for students and the public to gather. The island is reached by a 20-foot-long stainless steel lattice-canopied bridge, creating the effect that visitors are entering a stage or outdoor forum. At night, the installation is bathed in a precisely focused, moon-like light, creating deep shadows behind the pattern of the rocks.

The parliament of reality is located directly opposite the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. While the undulating stainless steel surface of the Frank Gehry–designed Fisher Center dramatically rises up when it is approached, Eliasson’s installation is nestled into the landscape and will over time be less visible as the trees grow. The project is conceived to evolve gradually and requires little maintenance. The installation, which was designed specifically with the college and its site in mind, is based on the original Icelandic parliament, the Althing (literally a “space for all things”), one of the world’s earliest democratic forums. The artist envisions the project as “a place where students and visitors can gather to relax, discuss ideas, or have an argument. The parliament of reality emphasizes that negotiation should be the core of any educational scheme. It is only by questioning, that real knowledge is produced and a critical attitude can be sustained.”

The parliament of reality returns to many of Eliasson’s earliest and most central themes, creating an artwork that is only completed by the viewer or participant, an environment that heightens our sensorial experience and a space that combines the natural world with the man-made without resolving the tension between the two. Essential to the experience of the project is the time when it is visited. In the winter, for example, the lake will freeze and the surrounding trees will be barren of their leaves. In the summer the tall wild grasses cover the large open field to the south of the site, and in the fall the viewer is presented with a magnificent cover of golden foliage. 

The project was commissioned by the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard), continuing its efforts to bring contemporary art into the beautiful landscape of the campus. The project cost $1.4 million and has been fully funded and developed by the LUMA Foundation, its first major collaboration with CCS Bard. 

Two days of inaugural events have been developed in keeping with the idea of the project as a space for debate and gathering and Bard College’s emphasis on providing opportunities for interdisciplinary studies. On Friday, May 15, a conference dedicated to issues surrounding the use of music as torture will be led by The Human Rights Project (HRP) at Bard.

On Saturday, May 16, Olafur Eliasson will lead an international group of scholars and artists in a series of presentations and performances devoted to our use of space, architecture, art, and design.

Following the symposia and presentations on the island, Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, will formally inaugurate The parliament of reality at 5:30 p.m. The artist; Maja Hoffmann, founder, LUMA Foundation; and Tom Eccles, executive director of the Center for Curatorial Studies will take part in the inauguration.

All events are free and open to the public. Additional funding for the inaugural events has been provided by the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Osher Foundation.

About Olafur Eliasson

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Elliason’s career spans more than 15 years. He was a recent focus of a major retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Take Your Time), which has traveled throughout the United States to the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Dallas Museum of Art, and is currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Eliasson’s immersive environments, sculptures, and photographs evoke or incorporate atmospheric conditions and landscapes while foregrounding the viewer’s experience of the works. His geometric constructions use multicolored washes; focused projections of light; mirrors; and natural elements such as water, stone, and moss to shift the viewer’s perception of place and self. By creating hybrid spaces of nature and culture, Eliasson prompts an intensive engagement with the world and a fresh consideration of everyday life.


The Center for Curatorial Studies

The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard) is an exhibition, education, and research center dedicated to the study of art and curatorial practices from the 1960s to the present day. In addition to the CCS Bard Galleries and the Hessel Museum of Art, the Center houses the Marieluise Hessel Collection of more than 2,000 contemporary works, as well as an extensive library and curatorial archive that are accessible to the public. The Center’s two-year M.A. program in curatorial studies is specifically designed to deepen students’ understanding of the intellectual and practical tasks of curating contemporary art. Exhibitions are presented year-round in the CCS Bard Galleries and the Hessel Museum of Art, providing students and the public with opportunities to engage with world-renowned artists and curators. The exhibition program and the collection also serve as the basis for a wide range of public programs and activities exploring art and its role in contemporary society.


LUMA Foundation

Founded in 2004 by Maja Hoffmann, a member of the CCS Board of Governors, the LUMA Foundation’s mission is the promotion and implementation of international and interdisciplinary projects that explore the relationship between art and culture, promote and enforce human rights, and protect the environment, as well as projects that promote interdisciplinary education and research.


For further information, call 845.758.7598, e-mail, or visit

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Mark Primoff


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This event was last updated on 11-05-2009