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The Carsten Höller Experience

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Don't stand too close, hands away from the art, don't talk too loud – you know the etiquette. But right now at the New Museum in New York there's a huge exhibition that breaks all those rules. There are pieces you can climb on, ride on, stick your head into, smell. Even swallow. Carsten Höller took an unorthodox path to the art world. A Belgian now living in Sweden, Höller started out as a scientist, receiving a PhD in agricultural science with a focus on insect communication. Höller eventually left science for art, but never lost his fascination with the animal world, as the exhibition shows. Singing live canaries, a giant aquarium of tropical fish, and giant mammal replicas occupy one of the exhibition floors. "I'm fascinated by the impossibility of understanding the animal," he explains. "They seem so close. At the same time they're so distant. There's many, many different qualities of being alive. The animals are a kind of a living proof for the fact that there are other ways that we don't have access to." Höller's show gives people that access through a sort of museum-sized jungle gym of experiences and other encounters. He devised all kinds of ways to challenge visitors' perceptions of light, sound, and space. They can float in sensory deprivation tank, a saline pool at body-temperature. They can wander around the show wearing a set of goggles that makes everything appear upside-down. And, of course, there's the gigantic slide that shoots museum-goers down three stories of the building. "So many of these things have to do with the idea of losing control in a specific way," Höller says, "and just see what happens."    Slideshow: Carston Höller at the New Museum

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