Olafur Eliasson:Atmospheric column


Occupying the core of the double-helix staircase of the Tadao Ando–designed He Art Museum (HEM) in Foshan, China, Atmospheric column (2023) by artist Olafur Eliasson seems to grow and evolve eternally. This is a site-specific commission work within HEM’s collection. The spiraling sculpture engages in dialogue with the spiral staircase that surrounds it, echoing the staircase’s reference to the form of the double helix that is the building block of life.

Born in 1967, Olafur Eliasson grew up in Iceland and Denmark. Since 1997, his wide-ranging solo shows – featuring installations, paintings, sculptures, photography, and film – have appeared in major museums around the globe.

Extending down twenty meters from just below the skylight, Atmospheric column can be viewed from various perspectives as one ascends and descends the staircase. The two sets of concentric helices were constructed as continuous pipes of steel, creating an infinite loop, with the larger, outer helices coiled four times around the smaller, more tightly wound inner spirals. The outer-facing surfaces of each have been painted black while the white inner surfaces catch the light that shines down from above.

The sculpture is suspended vertically from the ceiling on a motor that causes it to rotate gracefully around its axis. This rotation conjures the illusion of two intersecting waves that appear to glide for ever past one another, the one ascending and the other descending. From the landings, the waves appear to change continually, creating shifting patterns of overlapping black-and-white coils. The steady motion reflects and amplifies the visitors’ own movement as they progress from one level to another. From below, the two helices render a constantly shifting pattern of concentric circles.