Carsten Holler: NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK

By Joselit, David | Artforum International, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Carsten Holler: NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK


Joselit, David, Artforum International


CARSTEN HOLLER'S "EXPERIENCE" at the New Museum was perfect--perfectly wrong. If the artist's goal was to embody the values contested by the most important social justice movement of our present moment, Occupy Wall Street, he succeeded brilliantly. For the "experience" furnished to visitors was uncompromisingly private--typically involving sensory and/or physical isolation--while the museum's institutional responsibility was disavowed. Holler's two main rides and environments, a sinuous slide traversing two floors of the museum and an enormous sensory-deprivation tank filled with salty water in which a single person could float, were accessible only after the visitor waited in line to waive her rights to hold the museum responsible for injury. Similarly, an unwieldy set of goggles that turn the world upside down would not be dispensed until you surrendered your credit card as security, after waiting in a separate line (if you broke it, you bought it, for fifteen hundred dollars). In other words, the museum's status as a public space was evacuated. Instead, the institution offered a fiercely private experience, while externalizing responsibility for the safety of visitors. This was really and truly relational aesthetics from the perspective of the 1 percent, with the New Museum channeling the neoliberal state by transferring liability (whether physical or financial) onto its "citizens" (museumgoers). But unlike the United States, the New Museum isn't afraid to raise its taxes--or in this case the price of admission, which has been "temporarily" raised from twelve to sixteen dollars to "help it pay for the extra staff needed to shepherd museumgoers through Mr. Holler's carnival-like pieces," as reported in the Mew York Times. Like so many other museums and their accessible blockbusters, the show capitalized on expanded audiences drawn in by "carnival-like" art

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It you find it unfair of me to speak of waivers and lines, "shepherds" and admission prices (this is art after all!), let me quote Nicolas Bourriaud's well-worn definition of the work of art according to relational aesthetics, as reiterated in the glossy catalogue that accompanies "Experience." The book contains short thematic essays ordered alphabetically ("Amanita Blue," "Animal," "Artist," "Automaton," for instance, are the A's), written by an impressive roster of art-world luminaries. Bourriaud's first description of art, which appears under the rubric "Artist," runs as follows: "An activity consisting in the materialization of relationships in the world by means of forms, signs, objects, or gestures." In my view this is a good definition, and it logically implies that Holler's experiences must encompass all of the relationships they touch on, including waiting in line three times and signing long and very detailed waivers; and then waiting in more lines to reach the mouth of a slide that only one person was permitted to enter at a time. After all this waiting, here are the terms of your "personal experience" (according to the "Visitor Guidelines and Waiver" that you signed):

 INSTRUCTIONS
 On the 4th floor, wait for the Gallery Guard's instruction.
 One rider at a time, no exceptions.
 You must use a sliding mat and helmet provided. Protective
 elbow pads are available if you so choose.
 All visitors must ride feet first on their back. 

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