On Thursday, MIT announced that Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson was awarded the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT. The award is an annual grant honoring Eugene McDermott, the co-founder of Texas Instruments and a longtime benefactor of MIT, and celebrates individuals with promising talents in artistic disciplines. Eliasson will receive the $100,000 prize at a gala this spring, as well as an artist residency, pop-up exhibitions, and the opportunity to give a public lecture. According to the Council for the Arts at MIT, the $100,000 prize is considered “an investment in the recipient’s future creative work rather than a prize for a particular project or lifetime of achievement.”
Eliasson is a sculptor known for his ambitious public art projects and large-scale installations. A survey of his work, entitled Take your time: Olafur Eliasson, was curated by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA), and was exhibited from 2007 to 2011 in several art museums in the U.S. and Brazil, including the Musuem of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Eliasson also received the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture / Mies Van Der Rohe Award in 2013, for the crystalline façade he created for the Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre. His 2006 installation Eye See You was commissioned by Louis Vuitton for its stores’ Christmas displays, and a lamp from the installation, You See Me, is now on permanent display at Louis Vuitton Fifth Avenue, New York.
Eliasson recently extended his creative spirit to the world of social business enterprise. He worked 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. Little Sun provides a prudent and affordable alternative to toxic fuel-based lighting. “A work of art that works in life,” Little Sun has been distributed in seven African countries, as well as in the EU, Japan, Australia and the USA. Little Sun has also been showcased at MIT Energy Night and is currently displayed at the MIT Museum through March 2014. Students have already had the opportunity to make Little Sun more efficient and aesthetically pleasing at Hacking Arts, MIT’s first annual festival and hackathon to explore the intersection of arts, technology, and entrepreneurship.
“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,” said Eliasson. During his residency, he and his team will have the opportunity to integrate groundbreaking advances in design, entrepreneurship, and energy research at MIT into their work.