The New Museum has a new attention-grabbing exhibit on view. Entitled Carsten Höller: Experience, the exhibition has drawn quite a bit of controversy – and skepticism – from critics and visitors alike. A 102-foot long slide, a carousel of swings, a fish tank above your head, a room of shadows, upside-down goggles, and even a “sensory deprivation pool”. Sounds exciting, right?
The exhibit has been labeled as a sort of “adult playground” (sorry, no kids on the slide) but how many of the works – for that is what they are meant to be, after all, art – are actually meant for play?
Carston Höller, the German artist behind the works, was trained as a scientist and entomologist, and the exhibit seems to be almost a series of experiments – with you, the visitor, as his guinea pig. Headache-inducing flashing lights, a snail-paced merry-go-round, a suspicious vat full of white pills with an invitation to partake in one, a rapid-pulse arm rest, and a room full of mushrooms are some of the sights and effects of the museum’s exhibit. The confused expressions of visitors are a natural result of the experience.
Experience takes up all floors of the New Museum, and visitors commented on the poor use of space, with some floors housing as little as two works. The most controversial work on display is the pool, which has earned the museum the title of “Nude Museum.” This contraption, named the “Psycho Tank”, consists of a small vat of water filled with Epsom salts. Visitors are allowed to enter the pool, after showering, and must either wear a bathing suit or enter the water completely naked. Originally allowed to hold up to six bathers, the pool is now only allowed one user, after the Health Department paid a visit. And now, before entering the exhibit, to participate in any of the works, visitors must sign a waiver that indemnifies the museum from any potential issues that may arise.
Does the visitor gain anything by sliding down the 3-story slide or slipping into the Epsom-salt bath? Unfortunately, according to many visitor opinions, the quick, twisting slide trip seems to be the only exciting part of the exhibit (the anticipation leading up to the ride is what keeps the audience on their toes moreso than the slide itself), and Experience is unable to get visitors to think critically about art, as some of the museum’s past exhibits have done.
While the exhibition fits the museum’s overly broad mission statement of “New Ideas”, and it has certainly garnered attention if only for its controversy, Experience is perhaps not quite up to museum standards. Skeptical looks and questioning stares of the visitors, lack of traffic control in specific areas, long fine-print waivers that no average viewer is going to sit and read, and general lack of interpretation or exhibition flow all unfortunately characterize this show.
It is disappointing to experience Experience, especially after all the hype (and the $16 adult admission ticket!). Modern art may take a certain type of person to appreciate it, but is this scientific art beyond our time, or maybe simply meant for a lab room? Let us know your thoughts on the exhibit by commenting in the space below.
The exhibit remains on view through January 15.