Monday, January 2, 2012

Carsten Holler at the New Museum: Zero Impact

Pills dispensed from a ceiling-mounted chute mass in a huge pile in one of Carsten Holler's pieces in his mid-career survey at the New Museum. There is a nearby water-cooler and stack of paper cups, inviting gallery goers to take a chance. Pulling apart the gelatin capsule, the pill was empty -- an apt metaphor for a show titled Experience. There has been a lot of criticism regarding the show itself and the more general trend in contemporary art towards spectacle. Rather than repeating those arguments, I'll simply recommend Jerry Saltz' recap of curatorial abdication in New York magazine or Karen Rosenberg's review in the NY Times.

The mirrored carousel.

For me, the various experiences were neither profound, intense, nor subtle. Walking away from the museum, I wondered what, if anything, I was taking with me. What was the experience I had just had and how did that measure up against other comparable experiences? There were technical reasons why the exhibition fell short. One example: the mirrored goggles failed to cover the entire field of one's peripheral vision, preventing a complete entering into the upside down world they were designed to create. This isn't nit-picking. For a show constructed to challenge a viewer's perceptual preconceptions, details matter.

The entrance to the slide everyone is talking about.  It corkscews through 2 floors and takes about 5 seconds.


Taken as a whole, was my sense of perception expanded? The best art can show how the world has changed. It can give the viewer a greater sense of what is possible. It can facilitate the perception of external change or the awareness of something within yourself you had not recognized previously. I remember  the first Gursky show I saw back in the mid 1990's. As I was walking through New York, to my surprise I saw Gurskys everywhere, where I had seen none before. My manner of seeing had been changed, and now I was seeing the world through his eyes. I've been less interested in Gursky's work since that initial encounter, but that first experience was a powerful one. I've had similar experiences after looking at the work of Gerhard Richter and Robert Irwin, and many other artists. I had no such experience walking up Bowery after I'd left the New Museum.

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