Eliasson’s ‘sun’ brings energy to isolated Ukrainian city

The new commission is industrial magnate Victor Pinchuk’s gift to the steelworkers of his hometown


The Ukrainian steel billionaire and art collector Victor Pinchuk is extending his activities with a major exhibition of new paintings by Damien Hirst to be held at his art centre in Kiev next month, and a show of works by the Chapman brothers in 2013. But Pinchuk’s biggest coup to date is commissioning the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson to make five monumental pieces for his new Interpipe Steel Mill in Dnepropetrovsk in south-east Ukraine, including a 60m-high artificial sun, which dominates the skyline of the post-Soviet state’s fourth largest city.

“[These are] major new works by Eliasson, commissioned as permanent installations for the workers, the city and society,” says Pinchuk, who declined to reveal the cost of the works. The project has resonance for Pinchuk as he was raised in Dnepropetrovsk (the isolated city, previously a manufacturing centre for ballistic missiles, was closed to foreign visitors until 1991).

The collaboration with Eliasson began after an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Pinchuk Art Centre in 2011. “I visited the factory and got a sense of the brutality of steel-making; I was curious about what the unpredictable notion of art could do in this equation. But I was confident about integrating art into the work site,” Eliasson says, stressing that the principal challenge he faces today is working with “very conservative” museums. “I liked making an exhibition where there was no aesthetic agenda,” he adds.

The result is a series of towering works of varying quality that transform the industrial setting. Material is movement consists of five enormous mirrored discs mounted on a wall in the main hall that radiate a yellow glow; the piece is meant to evoke a rising sun. The most effective intervention is Your thinking bridge, a walkway connecting the factory to the employees’ changing rooms. The bridge is covered with mirrors and dotted with reflected spheres, creating a never-ending tunnel.

The most prominent work, Dnepropetrovsk sunrise, is made of two intersecting yellow, corrugated metal ellipses; the vast installation is unremarkable during the day but transforms into a striking illuminated “permanently rising or setting sun” at dawn and dusk. “The sun represents the idea of liquid energy while the steel plant is about solidifying energy,” Eliasson says, adding that he is drawing on a tradition of combining art with industry, a common practice in Scandinavian workplaces.

Whether the installation proves as popular as The weather project, Eliasson’s 2003 Turbine Hall piece at Tate Modern, remains to be seen. Pinchuk says: “The strong men of the factory weren’t keen [on the Eliasson works] at first, but they are now.”

The billionaire has focused on building a large collection of works dating from 2000 to the present, with many artists in his holdings represented by the White Cube gallery in London (FL, F7). He plans to open a new exhibition space in a purpose-built gallery in Kiev in the next five years.

The exhibition of new works by Damien Hirst will run in parallel with the second edition of the Future Generation Art Prize at the centre (3 November-6 January 2013).

“Hirst will present a series of dynamic new paintings he has been working on since the summer of 2010,” the show’s organisers say.