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Olafur Eliasson receives 2014 McDermott Award

Award includes artist residency, pop-up exhibitions, public lecture, $100,000 prize and gala
Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson

The Council for the Arts at MIT is pleased to announce that Olafur Eliasson is the recipient of the 2014, 40th anniversary Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT. Renowned for the multi-faceted practice of his studio in Berlin, Eliasson creates ambitious public art projects, large-scale installations, architectural pavilions, major art exhibitions, spatial experiments, sensory experiences and a distinctive art and social business enterprise -- Little Sun, a solar powered lamp that is “a work of art that works in life.” Eliasson’s creative practice above all reveals that art shapes life in a way that transforms reality.

The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT celebrates individuals whose artistic trajectory reveals that they will achieve the highest distinction in their fields and continue to produce inspiring work for many years to come. The $100,000 prize represents an investment in the recipient’s future creative work, rather than a prize for a particular project or lifetime of achievement. The official announcement is made at the Council’s 41st annual meeting at MIT on October 24, 2013, and Eliasson will be presented with the award at a gala in his honor on March 13, 2014.

Upon receiving the award, Eliasson’s said: “Through abstraction, we shape the world. Through art, we translate thoughts, intuitions, feelings and intentions into actions that transform reality. It is a great honor for me to receive the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT, an institution with a long tradition of turning thinking into doing.”

“MIT recognizes the broad reach of Olafur Eliasson’s art practice, which extends the boundaries of our sensory perception and awareness about what art can do in the world. His art is at once intellectually rigorous and socially aware," said Philip S. Khoury, MIT associate provost and Ford International Professor of History. "Eliasson's collaborative approach to artistic creation will resonate in MIT’s culture, and we look forward to mutually productive interactions with faculty, students and researchers in the arts, science and technology during his visit to MIT in March 2014.”

Eliasson’s  work encompasses a broad range of creative practices spanning art, science and psychology, supported by a prodigious studio. He has made strikingly original contributions to public art, architecture, and recently, social entrepreneurship. Eliasson’s popular installation "The weather project," an immense artificial sun, produced a sui generis immersive environment, transforming the cavernous turbine hall of London’s Tate Modern with ethereal light and fog.

Through such philosophical investigations of light, color, atmosphere and water, Eliasson probes the nature of space and human perception. Most recently, Eliasson collaborated with engineer Frederik Ottesen to develop Little Sun: a portable solar-powered LED lamp for the 1.6 billion people worldwide without access to electricity.

Campus residency and public programs

A distinctive feature of the Award is a short residency at MIT, which includes a public presentation of the artist’s work, substantial interaction with students and faculty and a gala that convenes national and international leaders in the arts. The goal of the residency is to provide the recipient with unparalleled access to the creative energy and cutting-edge research at the Institute and to develop mutually enlightening relationships in the MIT community.

During his residency, Eliasson and his team will have the opportunity to connect with path-breaking advances in design, entrepreneurship and energy research at MIT. At Hacking Arts — MIT's first annual festival and hackathon to explore the intersection of arts, technology, and entrepreneurship — students from across the Boston region were challenged to improve Little Sun. The product was showcased on Oct. 18 at MIT Energy Night and is on view at the MIT Museum through March 2014.

The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT was established in 1974 by the Council for the Arts at MIT. It recognizes innovative talents in any arts discipline and offers its recipient a $100,000 cash prize, a gala and a campus residency. The selection process reflects MIT’s commitment to risk taking, problem solving and the idea of connecting creative minds across disciplines. The award honors Eugene McDermott, cofounder of Texas Instruments and long-time friend and benefactor of MIT.

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