All the crazy things you can do Carsten Höller's New Museum "Experience"
If you’re in the NYC area and want to check out the Carsten Höller exhibit at the New Museum this weekend, here’s a word of advice: You should walk outside, hail a cab and get in line, because otherwise you won’t be in the building before Monday morning. I’m only slightly exaggerating, but after two attempts at “beating the crowd,” I found myself shivering in the cold on both occasions, defeated by 2 hour + wait times. So no, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of riding Höller’s 2-story slide (which required serious renovations to the SANAA-designed structure to install), but as soon as I do, I’ll amend this post with a description of exactly how afraid I was. In the meantime, here are a few of the “sensory experiences” we can get excited about together:
Höller, who began his professional life as a scientist, is infamous for his confounding, immersive experiments and installations, which all culminate in The New Museum’s spectacular retrospective. In the “Experience Corridor,” a series of rooms containing peculiar sensory activities (“confusion machines,” as Höller calls them), exhibit-goers are invited to strategically place a medical vibrator on their body to produce a strange nose-growing sensation, dubbed “The Pinocchio Effect.” You can also take a dip in the “Giant Psycho Tank,” a sensory-deprivation pool heated to the temperature of human skin, or ride a slow-moving mirrored carousel. Visitors can even borrow a pair of prism glasses, which make the world appear upside-down and left-to-right.
It’s a little bit like a carnival for grown-ups on crack. Or maybe mushrooms, judging by the giant mushroom garden installation in the lobby. More accurately, the exhibit is designed to make you feel like you’re on drugs—and lots of them. One piece uses a small video screen in front of each eye to create the effect of walking through a forest, but at one point, your eyes go in different directions around a tree. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for users to completely topple over while fiddling with this.
Just getting the exhibit built was a feat in and of itself. European Museums are far less regulated than American ones, which somewhat compromised Höller’s original intent with a few of the exhibit’s offerings. For example, the sensory deprivation tank was designed to hold several (naked) people at once, but can now only accommodate one person at a time because The New Museum doesn’t have a bath house permit (ain’t it always the case). Similarly, the carousel can only be ridden by a single person, even though there are dozens of seats. And, of course, PETA is pretty bent out of shape about all the caged birds and fish tanks.
Which is all to say that New York City is super lucky to have access to this thing at all. If the prospect of stripping down to your skivvies and hopping in a lukewarm sensory deprivation tank doesn’t do it for you, at least brave the lines to the ride that slide. After all, how many opportunities come along in adulthood when slide-riding makes you seem kind of cultured and edgy?