The simple exhibition title Experience only hints at the range of perceptual distortions and adventures in store at the New Museum. The survey covers eighteen years of work by German artist and former entomologist Carsten Höller. Höller’s scientific past is evident, though visitors needn’t feel pressured to study up, as these interactive installations celebrate youthful discovery and play. Upon entering the exhibition, you can don Höller’s disorienting Upside-Down Goggles and encounter larger than life Giant Triple Mushrooms, sculptures that merge features of the psychoactive fly agaric mushroom with other mushroom species.
The most attention-grabbing piece is a 102-foot slide, like a pneumatic tube system for people, that gives riders an alternative route between three floors of the museum. Slides have been a major part of Höller’s work, most spectacularly in a 2006 installation of five slides at the Tate Modern, and they reflect the artist’s broader interest in alternative forms of transportation within buildings and even cities. The slide’s exit shoots the rider into a bewildering room with flashing banks of lights accompanied by neon-colored, hyperrealistic sculptures. These animals seem to respond with a myriad of emotions to the light’s optical tricks, as evidenced by a despondent pink rhino and a psychotic ape.
If you opt to navigate the floors in the elevator, prepare to be caught between dueling images of a woman insisting, “I always say the same of what you say.” The tension lessens on the third floor, and those who seek a more introspective experience can float in a swimsuit-optional sensory deprivation tank titled Giant Psycho Tank. Though slide riders can’t opt to stop on the third floor, they can still be seen and heard (usually squealing) as they zip down the spiraling tube.
If you can’t get enough of Carsten Höller, look for his photogravure etchings of birds and mushrooms opening Thursday at Carolina Nitsch Project Room.