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‘Objet d’Arctic,’ 2007, Artist Known
By LAURA NOVAK Published: October 24, 2007

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ON the second floor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, there is an 800-square-foot walk-in freezer set at 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The sole entity inside is a BMW hydrogen-powered racecar stripped to its frame, draped in ice and glowing like a strange arctic insect.


Heidi Schumann for The New York Times

Olafur Eliasson.

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This frozen objet d’art, a reflection on the conflicts between global climate change and the automotive industry, is an unusual collaboration between an Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, and BMW. A four-month exhibition, it coincides with the San Francisco auto show in November and is the only American stop for the work, called “Your Mobile Expectations: BMW H2R Project,” 2007. “If you imagine that we have an ice age running towards us at high speed apparently, this is what all our cars are going to be looking like, whether we want it or not within our lifetime,” said Mr. Eliasson, taking a break from checking on the freezing process a week before the show opened in September. Mr. Eliasson is the 16th artist invited to work with a BMW since 1975, following the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney and Andy Warhol. Most of the painted cars raced in the Le Mans 24-hour race in France. But this time, Mr. Eliasson was given a hydrogen-powered racecar to play with, one that can go 140 miles an hour and that emits water vapor rather than pollutants.


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Heidi Schumann for The New York Times

The artist Olafur Eliasson had a hydrogen-powered BMW racecar coated with ice for a show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The exhibition might be the most progressive advertisement BMW has for its corporate push toward sustainability and alternative fuels. By the year’s end, the company says it plans to place 100 of its plush Hydrogen 7 Series models with BMW enthusiasts, like the actor Will Ferrell, throughout the world, including 25 in the United States. Fueling is the greatest hurdle for hydrogen-powered cars, the company says. Only one such fueling station that can accommodate the H7 exists in the United States, in Oxnard, Calif., while another is being retrofitted. BMW plans to put a mobile one in Washington, Page 1 of 3

‘Objet d’Arctic,’ 2007, Artist Known - New York Times

12/8/09 1:21 PM

Calif., while another is being retrofitted. BMW plans to put a mobile one in Washington, D.C. Mr. Eliasson shelved brushes and cans of acrylic paint in favor of stripping the car of its body panels and mechanical guts, leaving the frame, steering wheel and four tires intact. He fabricated two layers of translucent steel “skin” with reflective stainless-steel tiles set inside. He then coated the frame in ice, illuminating the car from the inside with lights.

“This is not being put forward as a prescription for anything, but rather as a kind of challenge,” said Henry Urbach, curator of architecture and design at the museum, who brought the show to San Francisco. The H2R, he added, “is a very forward-thinking car, and what Olafur has done is made an anti-car car.” It took a day for 30 people to maneuver the artwork into place. Museum staff members and artists from Mr. Eliasson’s Berlin studio rolled the skeleton into the custom-made freezer before beginning the surreal task of soaking it in 260 gallons of water. To do this, engineers ran 300 feet of hose connected to an outside spigot up two flights of stairs. The water was cycled through two barrels filled with ice — the chilled water created more humidity in the freezer, Mr. Eliasson said — and an ionizer to remove air bubbles for smoother ice. The eventual dismantling is discussed with less enthusiasm; the reality of 260 gallons of meltwater provokes nervous laughter and talk of sump pumps and wet vacuums. Annette Ueberlein, a freelance art producer in Berlin who has worked on the project for two years, spent eight hours a day for three days spraying a fine mist of the chilled water until a perfect layer of ice hung from the frame. She was bundled in a North Icelandic brand jacket and boots and kept her blood flowing by stepping carefully on the extremely slippery floor while listening to her boyfriend’s German rock band on her iPod. The freezer must stay on round the clock for four months, so museum officials resolved the “green” problem with its regular utility, Constellation NewEnergy. The company bought and then donated renewable energy certificates from a California geothermal plant to match the kilowatts that will be used for the show. The museum has guards at the freezer’s entrance and exit. For the faint of heart, 50 fleece blankets hang on pegs in the hallway. After all, as Mr. Urbach said, the exhibition is “about absolute stasis, silence, frozenness, as well as about the future of motion.” But it is also about drawing visitors. Officials expect 120,000 people to view the car and the extended survey of Mr. Eliasson’s work also on display. (Only 20 people will be allowed in the freezer at a time.) “This is not meant as a political statement,” said Jack Pitney, vice president for marketing and product development for BMW of North America, who called the car breathtaking when he got his first tour of the freezer with Mr. Eliasson. “But if this car begins to change people’s perceptions of hydrogen as a potential future power source, then that’s a good thing.” It can’t hurt if the words “hydrogen” and “BMW” will roll off people’s tongues more fluidly once they stop shivering. “This exhibition not only carries an important message about how we need to rethink the way we drive and use our natural resources to support our wishes,” Mr. Urbach said, “but it will also provide an experience of wonder, almost like a journey.”
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‘Objet d’Arctic,’ 2007, Artist Known - New York Times

12/8/09 1:21 PM

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Tips To find reference information about the words used in this article, double-click on any word, phrase or name. A new window will open with a dictionary definition or encyclopedia entry. Past Coverage DESIGN; Sketches of Optimism From Detroit's Glory Days (August 26, 2007) If the Vehicle Is Round, Wheels Are Unnecessary (April 1, 2007) Antiques (May 12, 2006) DIRECTIONS; Trans-Nascar (March 26, 2006) Related Searches Art Automobiles Bayerische Motorenwerke AG Eliasson, Olafur


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