Experience and the (New) Museum

For those you who work in museums, you would have heard this from your bosses or patrons: how can we make museum-going more experiential?

Last weekend, I had a taste of just how experiential museum-going could be, at the spectacular New Museum at the Bowery in New York City,  designed by Tokyo-based Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA and New York-based Gensler.

For the solo exhibition of Belgian-German artist Carsten Höller, entitled Experience, the entire museum had been transformed into an amusement park. Alongside other installation / rides, there were a working carousel, a saltwater-filled sensory deprivation tank (in which you floated naked or with a swimsuit), and a three-storey slide inside the museum! 

My favourite piece was a pair of goggles, designed by the artist, which made everything you saw upside down when you put them on. After going through the exhibition the first time, I went through it all over again with these upside-down goggles on, for a completely different and disorienting experience. Which was quite fun, if a little nerve-wracking.

Along with the amusement park theme were, quite naturally, amusement park-like lines for the more popular rides, which only enhanced the feeling one got of being completely out of place, and which made this exhibition all the more perverse and transgressive.

I couldn’t help but wonder: what exactly were we doing in this exhibition?!!  Were we actually experiencing art?? Or were we like lab rats being put through some kind of behavioral experiment. Was someone watching us through CCTV cameras and taking notes?

Mr Höller is one clever and cynical man. As I finally got through a 20-minute-long wait to get my pair of upside-down goggles, I thought I could hear him cackling gleefully all the way back to his studio.

Because of course, the joke is on us, as the experience-addicts, willing to fork out money and time for ever more novel and out-of-the-world experiences, a category of leisure activity which also includes museums these days.

The joke is also on those other (new) museums, which, in their pursuit of ever more experiential displays and presentations to attract greater audiences, have perhaps gone over the edge from institution to 3D-simulation-ride. 

Perhaps the title of the exhibition should have been Be Careful What You Wish For, Ha Ha Ha.  Meanwhile, for only $14 a person, you can experience Manhattan’s only indoor amusement park, while it lasts.  

 Mirror Carousel, 2005

View from Mirror Carousel, meant to put you in a reflective mood


Untitled (Slide), 2011

 Alternate view of Untitled (Slide)

Animal Group, 2011 and Double Light Corner, 2011 (strobes off)

Animal Group, 2011 and Double Light Corner, 2011 (strobes on)

 Singing Canaries Mobile, 2009.  As experienced (simulated here) through Upside-down Glasses, 2001

Video installation of falling spots in the elevator

Single gelatin pill from Pill Clock, 2011 – in which a single pill drops every minute into a large container of pills. Visitors were invited to take one pill, so I did.

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
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