New Museum Combines Art with Interactivity


The new exhibit “Carsten Höller: Experience” at the New Museum features a carousel and a long line for the two story long slide. (Benoit Pailley/Courtesy of New Museum)

At the ticket desk of the New Museum, a sign reads, “DO NOT visit the second floor if you are susceptible to Photosensitive Epilepsy, which may cause seizures.” The warning feels more appropriate for a Disneyland ride than an art museum, but the new exhibit, “Carsten Höller: Experience,” is no ordinary art show. From now until Jan. 15, the inside of the New Museum will be converted into a showcase of the enigmatic works of Belgian entomologist-turned-artist Carsten Höller.

Höller’s work is an eclectic mix of sensory experiences, futuristic architecture and surreal sculpture. The new exhibit showcases many of Höller’s most interesting works including a mirror-lined carousel, a slide that descends two stories and a piece dubbed the “Giant Psycho Tank.”

The two story long slide descends through the floor of the New Museum. (Benoit Pailley/Courtesy of New Museum)

At times, the show can feel like more of a novelty than an art exhibit; some of the lines for the interactive pieces have waits long enough to be amusement park attractions. Nonetheless, Höller’s work succeeds at turning conventional notions of several everyday experiences into something that can be unsettling, insightful, even fascinating all at once.

Take, for instance, what is in many ways the centerpiece of the show: the slide. After signing a waiver, guests can enter from the fourth floor and pass through a clear tunnel-slide that spirals through the second and third floors. The installation is an example of Höller’s “visionary architecture”, providing a possible alternative to how we typically imagine architectural space. In a few thrilling seconds, guests are transported from the peaceful fourth floor gallery, to the eerie second floor. Throughout the exhibit are models of skyscrapers utilizing this system of slides as a principle method of transportation. Unlikely, yes, but still fascinating as a concept.

Another interesting stop in the show is the sensory deprivation pool, lovingly dubbed the “Giant Psycho Tank.” The pool is filled with extremely saline water heated to body temperature, resulting in a warm and noxious tank that keeps visitors afloat. For sanitary purposes, only one person is allowed in the tank at a time, and as a result the wait can be incredibly long. Yet for those who seek unique experiences and don’t mind investing a little time, it is hard to deny the attraction.

Much of the experience is far more subtle in nature. One hallway appears normal at first, but will occasionally move from side to side creating a disorienting experience if you aren’t expecting it. Tucked away behind a stairwell there is a series of small rooms, each featuring a different device that creates a strange sensory illusion. Though the area is easy to miss, these curiosities are some of the most interesting. One device is a pair of goggles that allows the wearer to walk through a virtual forest. Another creates the illusion that one’s nose is growing like Pinocchio.

Much of Höller’s work uses scientific principles to provide illusory sensations to viewers. It is fitting that before beginning a career as an artist, Höller left behind a scientific career as an agricultural entomologist. There is a strong sense of experimentation in all of the work featured. Often it is the viewers themselves that are the subjects being experimented upon.

While fascinating to attendees, “Carsten Höller: Experience” has also begun to gain some unwelcome attention from the city.  The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has warned the museum that it lacks permits for many of the unique installations in show. As a result, the museum has taken certain measures, such as allowing only one individual at a time in the sensory deprivation tank. However, this may not be enough if the city finds the exhibit to be in violation of other ordinances. For now, the exhibit continues to run with a dubious legality.

IF YOU GO: Carsten Höller: Experience When: Wed. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
Thur. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri./Sat./Sun. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Closed Mon. and Tues.
Where: New Museum, 235 Bowery (Take the N or R to Prince Street or
the B or D to Broadway-Lafayette).
Price: $8 with student ID, $12 standard admission
More Info: Exhibit runs until Jan. 15, 2012;

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