8 Colorful Installations by Olafur Eliasson

Icelandic-Danish contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson has a colorful imagination. Explore over eight installations that embrace and attest to the power of color.

Jul 5, 2024By Ela Sutcu, MA Art History & Archaeology, BA Art History

olafur eliasson colorful installations


Olafur Eliasson is known for his mesmerizing artworks and sculptures displayed all over the world. The Icelandic-Danish artist creates large-scale contemporary installations that often refer to issues surrounding our natural environment in the 21st century. Eliasson gained popularity in the 1990s for his experimental works using natural elements as his subject matter. Sometimes what appears to be natural is actually artificially produced by the artist. But whether it’s water, fog, light, or even the weather itself, Olafur Eliasson invites his viewers to truly experience a work of art.


Exploring Olafur Eliasson’s Use of Color

The Color Spectrum Series, 2005, by Olafur Eliasson. Source: Studio Olafur Eliasson.


In addition to being elemental and experimental, Eliasson’s works are also colorful and vibrant. In fact, many of his projects examine and attest to the power of color perception. The artist explores color in different ways. Some of his artworks even feature color as the main subject. In his installation called The Color Spectrum Series from 2005. Eliasson experiments with the color spectrum, organizing hues in six different rows.


The Weather Project, 2003, by Olafur Eliasson. Source: The Guardian.


In many of his other colorful installations, the artist emphasizes the concept of color and challenges it by reconfiguring how we view color normally and allowing his viewers to interact with his art. A handful of his installations feature colorful lights and rainbows, while others focus on color using optical illusions and color saturation. But for the majority of his works, Eliasson embraces color with curiosity and invites participation from his viewers.


1. Room for One Color, 1997

Room for One Color, by Olafur Eliasson, 1997. Source: Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


In this installation, Olafur Eliasson uses color and light to shift the viewer’s senses. Room for One Color was a series the artist started in 1997. Rather than creating a physical work of art, Eliasson produces an experience for the audience. Taking place in an empty gallery, Eliasson’s recurring series has been displayed around the world. It highlights the absence of color with a single monochromatic wash of yellow. Viewers are invited to walk through the gallery space and experience reality in a new light.


The artist creates a new yellow domain by saturating the space with yellow light. For this immersive installation, Eliasson reduces the viewer’s color perception to yellow and black using multiple monofrequency lamps. The oversaturation of yellow light in turn neutralizes other colors in the room, transforming the gallery room into a monochromatic space. Color, as a result, becomes a tool for the artist to control and alter the viewers’ perceptions.


2. Green River, 1998

Green River, by Olafur Eliasson, 1998. Source: Studio Olafur Eliasson.


A year after his Room for One Color, Olafur Eliasson created a sort of performance art piece with nature using just one color. In this project, he reapproaches monochromatic color by dyeing a river green. The artist uses a water-soluble dye for this reoccurring piece. Green River refers to the history of Land art and it also pays tribute to Nicolás García Uriburu, an Argentine artist who in 1968 dyed the canals of Venice green. This early example of Land art was quite controversial actually. Police in Venice held the artist out of concern that the canals were being contaminated but the dye turned out to be non-toxic, despite the water’s eerie appearance. Land art was often used as a tool to bring more awareness to the environmental issues in the postmodern world. By simply using the green dye, Eliasson overemphasizes the river’s presence and forces viewers to confront a new relationship with their environment.


3. 360° Room For All Colors, 2002

360° Room for All Colors, by Olafur Eliasson, 2002. Source: Studio Olafur Eliasson.


360° Room for All Colors is an interactive installation Olafur made in 2002. In this installation, color again becomes the main subject and the environment for viewers to experience. Enclosed in a circular space, this installation was made with green, blue, and red color filter foil and fluorescent lights hidden behind a projection screen. Slowly transforming from one color to another, the lights continue to change color as viewers walk through the circular space. As viewers meander through the installation, their perception of color is skewed.


With only green, blue, and red filters, the installation constructs the illusion of a wider range of colors due to the afterimage effect. The afterimage effect is a result of staring at a bright, sometimes colorful, light for a long time. Think of the lasting flash of a camera or looking at a lightbulb for a while. An afterimage is what is produced in the mind from the lingering effects of light and color. These are essentially colorful optical illusions. Like in Room for One Color, Olafur experiments with the afterimage effect while creating a colorful dreamy space for viewers to enjoy.


4. Your Yellow Versus Red Versus Blue, 2004

Your yellow versus red versus blue, by Olafur Eliasson, 2004. Source: Anders Valde.


In this multilayered color experiment, Olafur Eliasson uses light and darkness to experiment with color. Titled Your Yellow Versus Red Versus Blue, this installation invites color observation and meditation from the viewer. Using yellow, red, and blue along with their complementary colors, Eliasson produces different visual effects on the gallery walls, staging different colors that are in dialogue with one another.


Eliasson uses a single light and tripod to project colors in a dark room. The artist places color-coated glass mirror discs between a white wall and a daylight projection machine. These discs of varying sizes are then suspended from the ceiling. Attached on top is a motor that slowly rotates the glass mirrors as the light stays in place. The projected colors mingle together, creating new colors and elongated ellipses of different sizes. This project from 2004 represents just one of Eliasson’s initial explorations with color and light, laying the foundation for his later, more intricate installations.


5. Domestic Motion, 2005

Domestic motion, by Olafur Eliasson 2005. Source: Fredrik Nilsen.


Thin horizontal rainbow stripes illuminate a darkened gallery room in this installation from 2005. Similar to his previous colorful experiments, Olafur Eliasson uses lights and shadows to emphasize color in this artwork called Domestic Motion. One of the artist’s earliest creations incorporating the color spectrum, Domestic Motion is an innovative installation that relies on prismatic light effects.


In this artwork, the artist experiments with prismatic light by setting up a light projection apparatus in a dark room. Eliasson hung up acrylic glass prisms like a curtain at the doorway of the dimed room. With an HMI lamp and rotating motors, a bright light shoots through the revolving prisms. Light from the lamp refracts through the thin prisms producing elongated beams of rainbow light across the gallery walls. Peeking through the curtain of prisms, the projected light continues to shift slowly as each prism rotates individually. With the addition of a full-length mirror next to the doorway of prisms, this repeating light effect is duplicated throughout the gallery space.


6. Afterimage Star, 2008

Afterimage Star, by Olafur Eliasson, 2008. Source: Studio Olafur Eliasson.


In 2008 Olafur Eliasson came up with a project called Afterimage Star. Eliasson reintroduces the afterimage effect in this installation by creating an afterimage in motion for his viewers. For this vibrant project, Eliasson created an alluring light show using 8 spotlights against a white wall. The project explores the ways in which colors remain in our visual memory. Eliasson displays these spotlights against color filter foils ranging from blue, yellow, magenta, red, green, and turquoise. Layers of color overlay each other creating compositional layers where new colors appear. Step by step color is added and removed like a slideshow presentation. The result is a hexagon of different color segments that work together to activate the afterimage effect.


7. Your Uncertain Shadow (Color), 2010

Your Uncertain Shadow (Color), by Olafur Eliasson, 2010. Source: Studio Olafur Eliasson.


In Olafur Eliasson’s 2010 project titled Your Uncertain Shadow (Color), color is activated in motion. In this artwork, Eliasson uses participation to stimulate his experiment. The artist emphasizes body consciousness in the installation by inviting his visitors to walk in front of the lights to create colorful shadows.


Eliasson used HMI lamps to illuminate the space, staging green, orange, blue, and magenta lights in the gallery. These lights were organized in a line, mounted on the floor. Against a white wall, the lights peek out behind the visitors’ shadows. Shades of red, blue, and yellow intertwine with one another as visitors make their way across the room. If a viewer blocks, for example, the blue light, the result is the illumination of a shadow of the other hues. As colorful shadows overlap, new colors appear. In Eliasson’s fun installation, the participant becomes a crucial part of the work. Distorting color at each step, the human body becomes the paintbrush of Eliasson’s artwork.


8. Feelings Are Facts, 2010

Feelings Are Facts, by Olafur Eliasson, 2010. Source: Studio Olafur Eliasson.


In his installation called Feelings Are Facts, Olafur Eliasson explores themes of body consciousness and color perception once more. Feelings Are Facts was part of a temporary exhibition that took place at the Great Hall of Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. In a colorful haze, visitors were invited to walk into a gallery room filled with artificial fog.


The space was illuminated using red, green, and blue lights, seamlessly blending into the fog to create a dreamlike environment. Eliasson called attention to the gallery space itself by making the space explicit with colorful lights and fog. The artist also intentionally disoriented the viewer in this alluring display. The boundaries of the gallery were hard to identify, so visitors were likely to encounter one another by accident. Therefore, the fog and the colorful lights successfully forced the participants to rely on their senses.

Author Image

By Ela SutcuMA Art History & Archaeology, BA Art HistoryEla is an art historian, artist, and contributing writer based in St. Louis. Her research interests include modern sculpture, contemporary political and eco art, and ancient art and culture of the Mediterranean and Middle East. She recently graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with her MA in Art History & Archaeology, and she holds a BA in Art History from Saint Louis University where she minored in Italian and Film Studies.