Each Friday, our writers review a few choice New York gallery openings from the night before.

Rotating mirrored doors in the center of the gallery create the illusion of a complex structure.

by Elinor Case-Pethica, Staff writer

On Monday, Carsten Höller returned to New York for his first exhibition since Experience, his comprehensive 2011 career survey at The New Museum. Housed in Gagosian’s cavernous gallery on 24th street, Höller’s new work elaborates on his traditional subject matter of disorientation and play, biology, and the integration of his viewers into the work as test subjects. 

The artist’s background is in science; he began his career in the unlikely field of research entomology, and holds a doctorate for his work on the olfactory communication methods of Aphids. Although Höller gave up entomology when his art career took off in the mid 1990’s, his work contains many of the tropes and techniques associated with scientific research. He is particularly known for pushing ‘viewer participation’ to new extremes. Past pieces have included elements such as double-blind trials, massive slides, the use of hallucinogens, and sensory deprivation tanks. Höller’s artistic practice revolves around the idea of perception—in his most recent works, he has taken to using the fly agaric mushroom as a symbol to allude to states of altered reality.

Visitors to the exhibition are invited to push the bottom bar of Flying Mushrooms to make the arms rotate.

The centerpiece of the Reason show is a kind of reverse-mobile called Flying Mushrooms, a branching metal structure topped with mushrooms, with arms that rotate like a desktop model of the solar system. The mushroom sculptures at the end of each arm are split, with one half of the cap pointing upwards and the other, down. The second room of the gallery contains a structure made up of four revolving mirrored doors, which spin in even the slightest draft and reflect dizzying refracted images of the gallery space. On the walls hang a series of small assemblage-paintings, each with a plastic creature (fish, aphid, minnow) hovering in front of color gradient compositions that mimic the golden ratio. Occupying a side alcove of the gallery is Dice (White Body, Black Dots). Children are invited to clamber through the holes in its surface and into the hollow interior, though parents be warned—a previous series of Höller’s works consisted of ‘child traps,’ including one with an allegedly live electrical cord on the ground, surrounded by candy. 

In this body of work, Höller appears to be drawing on the concepts of multiplicity and reproduction through division. The various pieces are tied together through his preoccupation with splitting the ‘self’ into ever-smaller pieces. This is most blatant in Höller’s multiple visual references to the golden ratio, and echoed in the allusion to the asexual reproductive cycle of the mushroom. His visual dialogue about splitting the self is projected onto the viewer in the multiple deflected images of themselves mirrored in the spinning doors, then taken one step further, upon seeing their offspring pop out of a giant die in a humorous visual reminder of the chance involved in determining genetic makeup.

A selection of specimens are displayed in shallow Perspex boxes against color-gradient backdrops.

Within the context of Höller’s larger oeuvre, asexual reproduction and self-division are an interesting spin on his work’s usual undercurrents of altered perception, chance and play. Perhaps Höller is suggesting that perception itself is a kind of split; something that separates us from those around us. The title of the show offers a entry point to understanding Höller’s work more fully. Reason is an allusion to the Enlightenment, providing the viewer with a framework for how Höller is thinking about perception, biology, and identity—namely, questioning whether reason is a good basis for scientific and intellectual pursuits, or whether it is as subjective as experience and thus unreliable. 

This imaginative, ambitious show investigates the relationships between science, fantasy, perception, and imagination, with equal parts subtle humor and empirical rigor. 

Carsten Höller’s Reason will be up at Gagosian’s 24th street location until August 11th