Höller Back

New York
10.28.11

Left: New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni with artist Carsten Höller. Right: New Museum director Lisa Phillips. (Photos: Billy Farrell Agency)


NECKING SICKLY-SWEET themed cocktails with names like “Love Drug” and “Magic Mushroom” may offer a challenge to the senses, but Carsten Höller surely had something more unusual in mind when he titled his New Museum exhibition “Experience.” Perhaps the dressed-up hordes that packed the Bowery building’s lobby for the show’s Tuesday evening opening felt an added need to get their drink on before tackling its vaunted wonders—supposedly the equal of anything at Six Flags and sprinkled with magical relational-aesthetic fairy dust (meaning it was officially OK to have a laugh). A few began by donning pairs of Höller’s Upside-Down Goggles—heavy, RoboCop-style goggles that flip one’s view of the world, making a crowd a cloud. “I’m fine,” one guest piped in response to a friend’s inquiry, “this is actually better for me than normal.” “Does it help you see up people’s skirts?” leered another.

The salacious quip wasn’t as out of place as it might sound; several attendees at the show’s morning press preview had got naked together in Höller’s Psycho Tank, an enclosed sensory-deprivation pool that was open to six people at a time (until Friday, that is, when the museum inexplicably changed its rules to allow for solo usage only). At the evening event, however, such depravity seemed to be off the menu—all I glimpsed were a few bare ankles as participants emerged from the water, and photographs of even these were sternly barred. More innocent in spirit (and less demanding of its users) is Mirror Carousel, an ultra-slo-mo fairground ride, and Aquarium, a fish tank with indentations in which recumbent viewers stick their heads for an almost immersive view. Experience Corridor, a row of one-person physiological and perceptual experiments featuring a seemingly odorless love perfume (what did I miss?) and a virtual reality walk in the woods whose machinery was already on the blink, reproduced the feel of a science museum’s overworked interactive gallery with regrettable exactitude.

Left: Curator Clarissa Dalrymple, dealer Sadie Coles, and artist Nicola Tyson. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency) Right: A view of Carsten Höller's slide. (Photo: Michael Wilson)


Still, the centerpiece of Höller’s show (besides the ubiquitous liability waivers) is, of course, the slide: a partially transparent 102-foot-long tube that spirals steeply from a discreet hatch on the museum’s fourth floor down to a large rubber mat on its second. “Can we really go down it?” asked one incredulous visitor. “Sure,” her date affirmed. “But have you seen what I’m wearing?” she protested, indicating her skimpy Little Black Dress. “Just go headfirst,” was the impassive response. This wasn’t an option, though, as attendants instructed users to slip their feet into canvas bags and fold their arms corpselike across their chests before launching themselves earthward. The sight of a long line of people gradually disappearing into a hole in the floor was disconcerting, but visitors on the third floor were witness to an equally bizarre sight as sliders hurtled past, many of them screaming.

Another top spot for observers was the slide’s egress, which was negotiated with wildly varying degrees of skill by put-together types. Some appeared to experience rather more roll, pitch, and yaw than others, and seemed perilously close to flying off one side where the tube becomes a strip. Others looked more at home with the process and stepped off the end of the chute with dignity relatively intact. The flashing strips of white neon on the walls—actually a new installation titled Double Light Corridor—made photography a problem, but it was impossible to resist a bit of action shooting. Early-evening sliders in particular must have felt like superstars as a virtual horde of would-be paparazzi lined up in hopes of wardrobe malfunctions and ankle fractures.

Even an omnipresent and always-grinning Massimiliano Gioni, accompanied alternately by curator Cecilia Alemani and beaky provocateur Maurizio Cattelan, complained about the long wait for a turn, but I suspected he was happy to keep his suit looking sharp. Performa director RoseLee Goldberg, White Columns director Matthew Higgs, and New Museum associate curator Gary Carrion-Murayari looked similarly content to remain bystanders to the action. As the whoops from the slide died down and Psycho Tank’s lights went dim, I made my way out. I’ll be back for a drift in the latter, but not before they clean it. Don’t critics get dirty enough?

Michael Wilson