Music & Art Jul 07, 2013

NatGeo and NYT Call Icelandic Glacier On Display at MoMA “Awe-Inspiring”

Pieces of a melting 800 year old icecap bring visitors face to face with the effects of global warming.

In May, the Museum of Modern Art debuted “Expo 1: New York,” which the New York Times describes as “a sprawling multi-site extravaganza” encompassing installations, shows-within-shows, panels, community enhancing activities, and events. Expo 1’s broad variety of modules pursue “an exploration of ecological challenges in the context of the economic and sociopolitical instability of the early 21st century.”

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s installation features a blank white room scattered with huge chunks of ice, presented as sculptures. National Geographic calls entering the gallery “an awe-inspiring experience.” The pieces were recovered after breaking off the Icelandic glacier Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Europe. The exhibit, titled “Your waste of time,” carries a clear message about global warming. Eliasson came up with the idea because he had spent a lot of time watching the glacier melt, but most people can’t physically see the effects of climate change, and he believes that leads to a sense of disconnection.

“Vatnajökull is the only place in the world where you can stand off on the sand and watch big chunks of glacier break,” said Eliasson. “It’s not like New York is going to go see the glacier in Iceland, so it makes sense to take some piece of Iceland and bring it to New York.” Eliasson had friends go to the beach every day and collect suitable chunks of ice for three weeks. National Geographic reports that “each glacier has its own unique tint, shape, and character. Some are rhombic and upright, others curl like fists into the floor, and others are belly down on the ground, almost gliding, like stingrays. Colors range from pale blue to clear. Some were smaller than a porcupine, while others were larger than a black bear.”

The pieces traveled across the Atlantic in refrigerated shipping containers normally used for exporting fish, and they now reside in a special gallery that has been converted into a walk-in freezer. Critics have pointed out that the massive amount of air conditioning necessary to keep the gallery between 5 – 20° F amounts to a costly waste of energy, which is exactly what the exhibit is protesting. However, the air conditioner is powered at least partly by the museum’s solar panels. After the show ends in September, the glaciers will melt away as they would have without the exhibition.

And that will be the inglorious end of ice that came into existence some 800 years ago, around AD 1200. “These glaciers bear testimony to our history — being suspended and frozen for thousands of years — and now they are melting away, as if our whole history is fading,” said Eliasson. As MoMA’s website puts it, “‘Your waste of time’ makes tangible a history that extends beyond the human lifespan — time that is measured in thousands of years rather than mere decades.”

The exhibit runs till August 6th at MoMA’s PS1, located at 22 – 25 Jackson Avenue on Long Island.