Carsten Höller applies scientific curiosity to his work as an artist, exploring human behavior, perception, and altered states of consciousness with playful, sometimes unsettling humor. Many of the projects that comprise his self-described “laboratory of doubt”—which range from twisting slides to vision-flipping goggles—incorporate disorienting, even hallucinatory experiences that prompt viewers to question how they see and understand the world around them.
Born in 1961 in Brussels to German parents, Höller began to make art in the late 1980s alongside a number of artists experimenting with space and experience such as Pierre Huyghe, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Andrea Zittel. After studying olfactory communication in insects at the University of Kiel, where he received a doctorate in agricultural science in 1988, and working as a research entomologist, he returned to art making full-time in 1993. Höller is often associated with relational aesthetics, a strategy, named by curator Nicolas Bourriaud in 1996, focused on human exchange and social context.
Among Höller’s early interactive projects are Flugmaschine (Flying Machine) (1996), a motorized steel armature to which viewers are attached before being hoisted through the air, and Giant Psycho Tank (1999), a sensory-deprivation chamber that facilitates a sensation of being bodiless. For the 1998 Berlin Biennale, Höller initiated what was to become his defining body of work, a succession of giant tubular slides that transform users’ experience of the buildings through which they move. In 2000 he installed a slide in the Milan office of designer Miuccia Prada, and in 2006 he constructed Test Site, a set of five slides in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London. Höller is interested in the structures’ imposition of a temporary loss of control on participants, describing the resultant emotional state as “somewhere between delight and madness.”
Höller has also worked with other objects and mechanisms associated with entertainment and play. Amusement Park (2006), a major installation at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, featured full-size carnival rides that operate at dramatically slowed speeds, an unexpected modification that converts them into kinetic sculptures, profoundly altering their character. In 2014, Höller installed Golden Mirror Carousel at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Completing just one rotation every five minutes, this gleaming structure similarly encourages viewers to consider the artificially accelerated pace of not only fairground diversions but also of contemporary life.
Other of Höller’s installations have focused on the physical and psychological reconfiguration of social environments. The Double Club (2008–09) was a functional installation designed to establish a conversation between Congolese and Western culture in the context of a London bar, restaurant, and nightclub. Large rotating glass discs comprised Revolving Hotel Room, another altered space that changed the layout and function of an interior of the Guggenheim Museum, New York, repurposing it as an operating hotel room during the 2008–09 group exhibition theanyspacewhatever.
Finally, Höller’s scientific background resurfaces in his many works featuring or representing animals and plants. Singing Canaries Mobile (2009) incorporates seven cages housing live canaries (one of the various species of bird that the artist keeps in his Stockholm home), while numerous of his works since the early 1990s have involved mushrooms. Upside Down Mushroom Room, which was installed at Fondazione Prada, Milan, in 2000, included large sculptures of fungi attached to the gallery ceiling, while Giant Triple Mushrooms (2010), shown in Höller’s 2011 survey exhibition Experience at the New Museum, New York, was a set of Alice in Wonderland–like replicas of psychotropic mushrooms. And in animal sculptures such as Octopus (2014) and Pangolin (2022), Höller considers our relation to different species by distorting their natural forms and colors.
Extended through September 1, 2017
June 20–September 1, 2017
555 West 24th Street, New York
Brutalisten: An Interview with Carsten Höller
This spring, Carsten Höller launched Brutalisten, a new restaurant concept in Stockholm and the latest embodiment of his long-term culinary and artistic project called the Brutalist Kitchen. The twenty-eight-seat restaurant features a menu overseen by chef Stefan Eriksson that adheres to three classifications: “semi-brutalist” dishes (using oil or minimal ingredients), “brutalist” dishes (using salt and water), and “orthodox-brutalist” dishes (no additional ingredients). For the Quarterly, Höller speaks with Gagosian directors Serena Cattaneo Adorno and Mark Francis about this terminology, the importance of experimentation, and the fortuitous side effects of brutalist cuisine.
Daniel Birnbaum speaks with the artist about the “unsaturated” in his work.
Carsten Höller’s ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide
Carsten Höller talks with Derek Blasberg about his lifelong obsession with slides, the reactions that he intends from his creations, and the concept of fun.
Giant Triple Mushroom
Carsten Höller’s Giant Triple Mushroom (2023), a two-meter-high sculpture in polychrome aluminum, is on view in the vitrine at Gagosian, rue de Ponthieu, Paris, as part of the artist’s exhibition Clocks at the rue de Castiglione gallery.
The work’s form combines enlarged cross-sections of three different species of mushroom, including the red-capped fly agaric, reflecting Höller’s fascination with the idea that this notoriously toxic and hallucinogenic fungus may have played a role in the development of shamanism, and thus constitutes a link to ancient proto-religious culture. The three species also represent evolutionary time, as the different shapes, colors, and psychoactive ingredients of their fruiting bodies most certainly evolved from those of a common ancestor. Finally, Giant Triple Mushroom resonates with Höller’s continued exploration of doubling and rupture, and hence to the division and subdivision of time that is visualized in the clock works.
Carsten Höller, Giant Triple Mushroom, 2023, installation view, Gagosian, rue de Ponthieu, Paris © Carsten Höller. Photo: Thomas Lannes
On May 3, 2022, Carsten Höller will launch Brutalisten, a new restaurant concept in Stockholm and the latest embodiment of his long-term culinary and artistic project labeled the Brutalist Kitchen. The 28-seat restaurant will adhere to Höller’s “Brutalist Kitchen Manifesto,” a set of rules created in loose reference to Brutalist architecture, which is characterized by an emphasis on bare building materials over decorative design. The menu is classified in three sections: “Semi-Brutalist” dishes (using oil or minimal ingredients), “Brutalist” dishes (using salt and water), and “Orthodox-Brutalist” dishes (no additional ingredients).
Carsten Höller inside Brutalisten, Stockholm, 2022. Photo: Pierre Björk
Seven Sliding Doors Corridor (Outdoor Version)
Carsten Höller’s installation Seven Sliding Doors Corridor (Outdoor Version), recently installed at Luma Arles, France, consists of electronic sliding doors with mirrored surfaces on both sides, through which a viewer can walk in an apparently endless passage. The doors are installed inside a corridor that traverses a pond in a garden. Motion sensors cause them to slide open when someone approaches and close when the person moves away. As a result, the movements of viewers alternately break and bind the visual limits of the space, which can be entered from either end of the corridor, increasing the likelihood of unexpected encounters.
Carsten Höller, Seven Sliding Doors Corridor (Outdoor Version), 2021, installation view, Luma Arles, France © Carsten Höller. Photo: Adrian Deweerdt
What a Wonderful World
May 26, 2022–May 21, 2023
Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome
This exhibition brings together major installations by fourteen international artists including key works from the museum’s collection and others commissioned for the occasion. The works on display investigate issues of scientific and technological progress relating to the challenges of the contemporary era. Work by Carsten Höller and Tatiana Trouvé is included.
Tatiana Trouvé, Les indéfinis, 2018 © Tatiana Trouvé
October 5, 2021–February 28, 2022
Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia, Lisbon
Carsten Höller: Day brings together an array of works producing light and darkness, including sculptures that function as lamps, projections, and architectural interventions, dating from 1987, when Höller was working as a scientist, to today. More than twenty works, many re-created especially for this show, unfold across the museum in an arrangement that creates a dialogue with its architecture. The exhibition space is illuminated exclusively by Höller’s art, leading audiences through multisensory experiences of altered perception.
Carsten Höller, Divisions (Turquoise Lines and Pink Circles), 2014 © Carsten Höller
Dyr i kunsten
March 21, 2020–January 10, 2021
Arken Museum, Ishoj, Denmark
Dyr i kunsten, or Animals in Art, features sculpture, installations, video, photography, and paintings by a wide array of international artists whose work explores the ways that humans study, categorize, live with, and use animals and how we thus attempt to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. Work by Douglas Gordon, Damien Hirst, and Carsten Höller is included.
Installation view, Dyr i kunsten, Arken Museum, Ishoj, Denmark, May 26, 2020–January 10, 2021. Artwork © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2020. Photo: David Stjernholm
September 28, 2019–April 13, 2020
In this exhibition Carsten Höller examines the theme of reproduction, adopting an approach that is at once scientific and artistic. The museum is transformed into a large, biology-based playscape where, for example, the visitors are encouraged to crawl through the pips of a die, and where slow-moving merry-go-rounds and corridors of mirrors affect their sensory perceptions.
Carsten Höller, Gartenkinder, 2014 © Carsten Höller. Photo: Mike Bruce