Last week the New Museum opened the first New York survey of works by German artist, Carsten Höller. Ongoing until early next year, the entire exhibition is an immersive, interactive installation. Twenty years in the making, Höller has created an artistic vision that is equal parts a scientific exploration of architecture and structural engineering and a real-life lab. Höller’s pieces are designed to push the limits of human sensorial perception and logic through carefully executed participatory experiences. Prior to entering the show we were asked to read and sign a waiver of liability, which is very unusual for any kind of exhibition at a museum, but definitely a good sign.
Höller actively engages the museum’s architecture, with each of the three main gallery floors and lobby representing different levels of interaction. The lobby featured a collection of giant mushroom sculptures presented at a human-sized scale.
But the highlight of the show is Höller’s signature 102-foot slide installation that was adapted to function as an alternative transportation system within the museum. It starts at the fourth floor and runs through to the second, perforating through the ceilings of each floor, and shuttles viewers through the entire exhibition.
The experience is greatly enhanced with an unexpected new light installation that extremely disorients the architectural environment. Also on display is a grand Mirror Carousel next to the entrance of the slide, and dozens of finches in birdcages makes the fifth floor the most whimsical in scale.
The third floor hosts the Psycho Tank where viewers float weightlessly in a sensory deprivation pool, providing a strange out-of-body experience. The Experience Corridor bends the mind with a series of self-experiments for viewers to undertake and interact. In these scenarios, as in his other work, Höller treats the viewer as the subject and audience for his radical and disorienting installations.
Höller’s brand of participatory experiences are not only unorthodox for a museum setting, but encourage viewers to touch and test the gadgets, smell the potions, ride the carousel, float in the deprivation pool, a level of interaction that is rare in established instiutions. As a result of this, the show proved to be an entirely sensory driven experience, one that is both surprisingly engaging, and daringly delightful.
The survey exhibition will be showing from October 26, 2011 through January 15, 2011 at The New Museum.