If you don’t mind crowds, go and be a part of Carsten Höller: Experience, on view at the New Museum through January 15. Described as a visionary and a utopian, former scientist Carsten Höller  makes art that he hopes will transform visitors’ experience of time and space, as well as their own physicality. For his first solo U.S. museum show, Höller is presenting a fun fair of his signature experiences: a 102-foot-long slide that goes from one floor to the next, changing how visitors normally move around the museum; an isolation tank in which people can bathe naked; a mirrored carousel; goggles that make you see upside-down; a room of giant mushrooms; and a room filled with neon animals, as well as various other sensory experiences. Höller has succeeded in creating an interactive museum experience that will appeal to many—especially those who find most museums a bit too quiet.  As much as I appreciate Höller’s vision, I am not sure that I can recommend the main activities wholeheartedly. In principle, I always try everything at an exhibition so that I can really evaluate them fairly. I guess a visitor’s experience of Experience will depend on the length of her wait for each activity and the quality of time she spends waiting.  I was very lucky in that I didn’t have to wait for a pair of Upside-Down Goggles. They were fun, but pretty much what you would expect from upside-down goggles. The best part of wearing them was interacting with other visitors. It was also entertaining to see the different ways people found to take photos of themselves and other goggle-wearers. Unfortunately, I found the slow ride on Mirror Carousel (2005) pretty
anticlimactic after half an hour waiting on line next to a family of complaining hipsters.
In contrast, my 20-minute wait for the isolation tank was fun and passed quickly, as several savvy New Yorkers shared stories about the changes made to the tank because of New York State rules regarding bathhouses.* [See below.] It felt a bit odd being naked in a tank of body-temperature saltwater in the middle of a crowded museum, alone. Despite getting into the experience, my feeling of isolation was tempered by a nervous fear of potential exposure every time I heard a sound resonating from outside the tank. While I was at the museum, no one lasted more than a short while in the tank, although you are allowed to be in there for up to ten minutes.
  The slide is the real crowd pleaser, and a genuine thrill for many visitors. I waited an hour and twenty minutes for my turn, watching other expectant sliders and doubting if I really wanted to be propelled down through the twisting tube feet first. A guard jokingly reassured me that no one, so far, had gotten stuck. And I was glad that parts of the slide were transparent, making it less claustrophobic. When my turn came, I bravely went for it. I’m glad I did it, but also glad I don’t have to do it again. I am a small woman and I found the slide, well, rather scary—the ride was fast and bumpy.   The show is extremely ambitious. This is its charm and also its Achilles’ heel. I see it as a very well-received experiment, on the brink of being out-of-(crowd)-control. I don’t think the museum expected so many visitors. And while the show looks and feels like a theme park, it is not designed for fairground numbers. With that warning clearly stated, the show can be an uplifting experience. Museum staff have a lot of personal contact with each visitor as they enthusiastically explain the rules and
procedures for participating. The guards communicate with each other on either end of the giant slide by walkie-talkie, and energetically cheer the sliders through their experience. And the visitors, whether waiting or participating, interact with each other within the exhibition space.
  This is a good show for people of all ages who are both patient and like to play.   Before You Go: A Few Practical Tips

  • No matter when you visit, expect some waiting. There are lines for the coat-check, for tickets, and for signing the waivers required to ride the carousel, go down the slide, enter the isolation tank and use the upside-down goggles. There are also lines for the various art experiences themselves. On weekends, waiting time for the slide can be as long as two hours.
  • There can also be a long wait for the (at last count) 15 pairs of goggles.You’ll need to leave a credit card in case they’re damaged or stolen while you’re using them. The charge in this case can be as much as $1,500. So far, three pairs have “disappeared.”
  • Visitors must be at least 48 inches tall to use the slide.
  • You must be 18 years or older to enter the isolation tank. A shower, clean robes and towels are provided for visitors who try the isolation tank. You may bring your own bathing suit and wear it in the tank. There are lockers in the basement if you want to lock up your valuables.

  If you make it to the New Museum before December 18, you may want to also check out the Sperone Westwater Gallery up the street at 257 Bowery. There’s an intelligent and delightfully obsessive show by Tom Sachs on view through December 17, and the Foster + Partner designed building, with its moving exhibition space (aka the elevator) is always worth a visit. Sachs’ work is challenging, but the gallery’s press release provides a good explanation of the work, including its many art historical references. The gallery is closed on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York. Closed Monday and Tuesday, Free Thursday Evenings from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Observation deck open Saturday and Sunday only, weather permitting.
 * The isolation tank was initially intended to be a group experience in which up to six visitors would enter the tank together, but the State of New York refused to recognize it as an artwork if occupied by more than one person at a time. In order to avoid having the artwork, Giant Psycho Tank (2000), categorized as a bathhouse, Höller had to rework his idea to allow only one visitor in at a time. These types of problems happen all the time when artists break barriers and push established limits. The question is whether this latest wrinkle detracted from the intended experience of the work—something to debate with fellow museum-goers while you stand on line for your turn.   All photos by Benoit Pailley, courtesy New Museum













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  • Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen December 4, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Thanks Suzanne for the marvelous description of the New Museum exhibition. We are thrilled that you will be joining us here at http://www.womensvoicesforchange.org with reviews of gallery and museum shows in New York and in other places. And, we look forward to reading about your work with displaced young people who are looking for a new life in Denmark.

    Dr. Pat

  • RozWarren December 4, 2011 at 10:25 am

    What a great review — I feel as if I know exactly what I’ll be getting myself into if I go. I had thought about seeing this show and had read some (mixed) reviews but they weren’t really about what the experience of going is actually like. It sounds like going to Disney World! Including waiting forever to go on a two minute ride.