Carsten Höller: ExperienceArts, Visual Arts — By Stephanie Nikolopoulos on February 8, 2012 at 6:00 am
I was the kid who refused to ride even the carousel because it made me dizzy. By the time I reached my college years, I’d relegated myself to the role of bag holder, while my friends searched out rollercoasters with death-defying loop-dee-loops.
A curmudgeonly review of the Carsten Höller: Experience should come as no surprise, then. I refused to participate in much of the “experience” and still walked out feeling like I’d eaten cotton candy before riding the Tilt-a-Whirl.
Carsten Höller: Experience is an amusement park reconceptionalized as art. –Or maybe, I’m looking in a fun-house mirror: it’s art reflecting an amusement park. It’s hard to tell which it is. Conceptual artist Carsten Höller transformed The New Museum, down in the Bowery of New York City, installing a 102-foot slide that penetrated through the floors of the museum. This wasn’t one of those, please-stay-behind-the-tape-on-the-floor-and-don’t-breathe-on-the-art deals. Museum-goers could actually ride the slide. Guess who held everyone’s bags, umbrellas, and cameras?
Also part of the experience were a slow-moving, beautiful carousel with swings; a sensory-deprivation pool called the Giant Psycho Tank; a room with a strobe light that reminded me of my seventh-grade birthday party; Alice in Wonderland-like mushroom sculptures that bring to mind, ahem, self-induced sensory experimentation; among other mind-bending installations. Museum-goers also have the option of borrowing goggles that make everything appear upside down.
I got dizzy just walking up the winding staircase from the ground floor to the floor that had the slide. The stairs weren’t part of the exhibit.
Here’s what The New Museum had to say about it:
“Carsten Höller: Experience” is the most comprehensive US exhibition to date of the artist’s engaging work. The current show gathers together a number of the artist’s signature works in an arrangement that transforms the viewer’s experience of time and space. Originally trained as a scientist, Höller is frequently inspired by research and experiments from scientific history and deploys these studies in works that alter the audience’s physical and psychological sensations, inspiring doubt and uncertainty about the world around them. His work often draws on social spaces outside of the museum such as the amusement park, zoo, or playground, but the experiences they provide are always far from our usual expectations of these activities. Höller’s art takes the form of proposals for radical, new ways of living by creating sculptures and diagrams for visionary architecture as well as transportation alternatives, such as his renowned slide installations. These concepts may seem impossible in the present day, but suggest new models for the future.
Each floor of the exhibition explores a different general theme within Höller’s work to provide a carefully choreographed journey through the building and the artist’s oeuvre. The fourth floor focuses on the theme of movement—featuring the artist’s spectacular Mirror Carousel (2005), which provides riders with a notably different physical experience than the traditional fairground merry-go-round, while at the same time reflecting and illuminating the space surrounding it. The third floor gathers together works that seek to provide an altered or utopian experience of architectural space. For example, his Giant Psycho Tank (2000) invites viewers to float weightlessly in the water of a sensory deprivation pool, providing a tenebrous, out-of-body experience.
Over the years, the artist has employed psychotropic drugs, flashing lights, and other stimuli to potentially alter the viewer’s mental state. His new site-specific installation on the second floor, Double Light Corner, flickers back and forth on a central axis, creating an immersive, hallucinatory experience. The work is paired with a recreation of Höller’s Experience Corridor in which the viewer is given the choice to undertake a number of self-experiments. The sculptures, Giant Triple Mushrooms (2010), icons of the kind of personal exploratory journey that his work has always centered on, will also be on view. Taken as a whole, Höller’s work is an invitation to re-imagine the way in which we move through the world and the relationships we build as he asks us to reconsider what we think we know about ourselves.
The exhibition is organized by Massimiliano Gioni, Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions, with Gary Carrion-Murayari, Associate Curator and Jenny Moore, Assistant Curator.
Here’s what I have to say about the exhibit: I applaud art that challenges the viewer’s perspective. Most art does that in a metaphorical or philosophical manner, but Höller’s art accomplishes shifting the viewer’s physical perspective and confronting preconceived notions of the meaning and purpose of art. Judging from the long line for Untitled (Slide) and the giggly museum-goers in Upside Down Goggles bumping into each other, perhaps Höller’s exhibit was just a cheap fun-house mirror trick on the art world—unique and heaps of fun, but no lasting depth. Then again, maybe he’s brilliant. Maybe art doesn’t need depth. Maybe all of life is art. And maybe there’s depth in that. Maybe much of life is about perspective.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12