Carsten Höller‘s 40-foot-high, 102-foot-long transparent metal slide—a “pneumatic mailing system”—awaits the daring visitor at the top floor of the New Museum. Surveying eighteen years of the artist’s work, The Experience exhibition is organized “experientially,” as opposed to chronologically, moving from a low-speed mirrored carousel down the slide to realistic albeit neon animal sculptures, disorienting architectural interventions, a sensory deprivation pool, and the artist’s simple yet highly effective upside-down goggles. The series of interactive environments function like science experiments, designed “to explore the limits of human sensorial perception and logic through carefully controlled participatory experiences,” as the exhibition’s press release explains.
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Born in 1961 in Brussels, Höller began his career as a scientist, earning a doctorate in biology in 1988, with a specialization in insect communication. He eventually left the field of entymology to explore a career in art, with his previous work in the scientific realm consistently informing his artistic practice. Testing and experimenting with social and institutional norms, as well as delving into conceptions of the self, Höller employs highly interactive and playful installations to discuss themes of childhood, safety, love, the future, and doubt. Curator Massimiliano Gioni described Höller as “a great moralist,” comparing him to the likes of Jonathan Swift—a probing thinker, while also humorous.
Questioning the everyday use of stairs and elevators, Höller’s Untitled (Slide) simply uses gravity to move the gallery-goer between floors. Offering an alternate, debatably more enjoyable mode of transportation, the artist breaks conventional boundaries (nonetheless, participants must sign a waiver before sliding). Rushing through the floors—for which two large holes were literally cut—the clear polycarbonate shell of the slide creates both a shared experience as well as a spectacle. For an insider glimpse at the building of the slide, the New Museum offers a few teaser videos of the construction.
Experience Corridor holds much more self-involved works. The Forest envelopes one in a virtual world of sound and image, headphones and goggles necessary. Rabbit on the Skin tests one’s nerve, pushing the very button that will turn on a small pricking pin over which another finger is placed—after the suspense, the flattened, pulsing metal pin is actually quite painless. In The Pinocchio Effect, a vibrating tool might make one’s nose feel like it’s growing, and Love Drug (PEA) might seduce with a whiff.
Giant Psycho Tank invites gallery-goers to take the experience to the next level. Bathing suits optional, up to six people are able float, disorienting their senses in the shallow enclosed pool, the water made dense with magnesium sulfate. With a medium level of privacy, towels and an after-shower are provided.
As well as critiquing the institutional norms of architecture and the self, Höller’s work is also very socially engaging. The lightened mood is ripe for conversation and unique social exchange, whether simply waiting in line for one of the ‘rides,’ swinging next to each other on the slow-moving Mirror Carousel, or deciding if they’ll actually strip for the Giant Psycho Tank. Getting off the carousel, one woman remarked, “I could stay on this forever!”
As a survey, most of the works have been seen before in various installations. Höller has installed slides in Milan, Berlin and São Paolo; the most famous iteration in 2006 in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Well aware of the potential dangers of such an interactive installation, New Museum Director Lisa Phillips spoke to all eleven venues that had previously hosted the slide to hear what safety concerns came up. Along with offering helmets and elbow pads to visitors, Höller has recently re-engineered the slide so as to provide riders with a softer landing at the bottom.
The New Museum could not have picked a more playful partner to engage with Höller’s grand experiment, Massimiliano Gioni, who is Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions. During the press preview of the exhibition, Gioni could be found cheerfully running between exhibition spaces, participating in the interactive elements, even rushing into the elevator at the last minute to catch the next ride up.
In one more layer of interactivity, the New Museum is hosting a living wiki (powered by Tumblr) where museum-goers can share their thoughts and visuals from their visit.
– J. Lindblad
New Museum [Exhibition Site]
Putting Museum Goers on the Fast Track [NY Times]
Carsten Höller is Putting a Giant Slide in the New Museum [Architizer]
Twisted Ways of Seeing [The Art Newspaper]
Take a Virtual Tour of Carsten Höller’s Art Amusement Park at the New Museum [ArtInfo]
Carsten Höller: Experience at the New Museum [Forbes]
Carsten Höller in New York – in pictures [The Guardian]
Carsten Höller: Experience, New Museum, New York [Financial Times]