Olafur Eliasson Named United Nations Development Program’s Goodwill Ambassador

Olafur Eliasson.


Olafur Eliasson is widely known for his environmentalist-minded work, which is currently being surveyed at Tate Modern in London. Now Eliasson is entering a new field: politics.

On Sunday, the United Nations announced that the Danish-Icelandic artist has been named a Goodwill Ambassador for its Development Program. In this role, Eliasson will be charged with advocating for urgent climate action by helping the UNDP to “raise awareness and mobilize support” through various projects. The position is a new one at the UN.

The environmentalist work Eliasson will be doing at the UN echoes some of the themes he has examined in his art for years. Prime examples of his work are on view at the Tate show, “In Real Life.” The installation Waterfall (1993) simulates weather patterns indoors, and his sculpture Moss Wall (1994) is a living, breathing wall of Scandinavian “reindeer” moss. His most famous work is Your Blind Passenger (2010), a hallway that obstructs vision through lighting techniques and a fog machine.

Aside from his artwork, Eliasson also collaborated with engineer Frederik Ottesen to found Little Sun in 2012, a project to make clean renewable solar energy universally available.

In a statement sent to ARTnews ahead of his appointment on Sunday at the Social Good Summit in New York, Eliasson said, “Life on Earth is about co-existence—among people, non-human animals, ecosystems, and the environment. Co-existence is beautiful and generative, chaotic and challenging. The fact is, we’re in it together. That’s why we all have to take the climate emergency seriously.”

The news was announced just days after members of the New York art community—and beyond—participated in a Climate Strike that attracted thousands in cities across the world. It is not the only major instance of the art world going green this year, however. Tate previously declared a “climate emergency” and vowed to reduce its carbon emissions, and the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles revealed plans this past August to go 100 percent solar-powered.

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