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New Museum Installation Team Handles Giant Slides, Domes in the Name of Art

By Serena Solomon | July 16, 2012 12:20pm
Joshua Edwards is in charge of installing installations at the New Museum.
Joshua Edwards is in charge of installing installations at the New Museum.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

LOWER EAST SIDE —  Sawing through 8 inches of concrete floor to install a metal slide for an art exhibit? Not a problem.

Moving a 24-foot-wide dome onto the fourth floor for another show? It can be done.

There aren't too many dilemmas the installation team at the New Museum can't solve when it comes to bringing ambitious art projects into its seven-story building at 235 Bowery. 

The museum recently toyed with the very structure of the museum for the slide-centric exhibition from Carsten Höller that ended in January, and now it has installed a huge silo lid-turned-movie dome for the new “Ghosts in the Machine” show opening Wednesday.

"You can never blame an artist for coming up with crazy ideas, because that is why we show them in the first place," said Joshua Edwards, 32, director of exhibitions management and the man responsible for the practical side of the displays. 

Planning installations at the contemporary-art museum, which opened at its current Bowery location in late 2007, can take months, not to mention the weeks spent removing them, Edwards explained. It involves working with the artists, curators and, in some cases, getting permission from city agencies.

"The slide was the clincher of the whole show," said Edwards, of the 120-foot spiral centerpiece from Höller's show that allowed visitors to experience his creations firsthand, including a carousel and sensory-deprivation pool. After the last visitor slid down — 100,000 people saw the show, an attendance record — three gapping holes in the concrete flooring that the slide snaked through needed to be fixed. 

It took three weeks to patch the holes, requiring work from 25 to 30 people including specialists from engineering and architectural firms, as well as approval from the Department of Buildings and FDNY.

Metal support beams were reinstalled, concrete poured and a network of electrical lines re-laid to bring the museum back to its pre-Höller state.

"The building is beautiful, but it is set up to show art works," said Edwards, when asked if the act of slicing up the museum was even an issue.

City agencies work closely with the museum on projects, according to Gary Carrion-Murayari, a curator for both Höller's show and the upcoming "Ghosts in the Machine" group exhibition, which delves into the relationship between humans, machines and art.

For example, the Department of Health ruled that Höller's sensory-deprivation pool could have only one patron — sometimes naked — floating in it at once, Carrion-Murayari explained.

"They came and they saw that it would work safest with one person at a time," said Carrion-Murayari, after numerous media outlets reported guests contracting ailments such as ear infections from shared pool experience.

While crews did not have to alter the building to install the 12-foot-high, 24-foot-wide silo lid for the upcoming exhibition, it came with its own set of challenges.

“When you have something like the dome, it is ambitious for another reason,” said Edwards, who got his start in construction by learning carpentry from his father. ”You are trying to mimic something that has already been done."

The movie dome is the brainchild of Stan VanDerBreek, a filmmaker turned artist who died in 1984. For one of his works in the early 1960s, he used the silo lid as a movie theater, allowing people to lie inside as they were bathed in projected films.

In its effort to recreate that authenticity, the New Museum bought its silo from the same Pennsylvania factory that VanDerBreek originally got his from.

"We were looking at the records that had been preserved, and we discovered the company it was purchased from," said Carrion-Murayari, who co-curated the show with Massimiliano Gioni and an entire team from the late artist’s estate.

Before the dome even arrived at the museum in pieces, Edwards had already predetermined through a 3D mapping program called SketchUp that each section would fit in the New Museum's large freight-like elevators.

About 25-30 people including engineering specialists helped install a 102-foot slide  at the center of the
About 25-30 people including engineering specialists helped install a 102-foot slide at the center of the "Carsten Höller: Experience" show at the New Museum.
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The New Museum/Benoit Pailley

"The last thing you want is it to sit in the loading dock because it can't fit in the elevator," said Edward, who works with an installtion team that varies depending on a project's need. 

With such large-scale installations and efforts to stay true to the artist’s vision, the question of money inevitably arise.

"Different exhibitions open the door for different donors," Carrion-Murayari said.

For example, with the added cost of installation for Höller's exhibition, a large contingency of Europeans donated money to ensure the German artist could finally secure his extensive show this side of the Atlantic, Carrion-Murayari explained.

"Certain donors follow different artists," he said.

As the New Museum raises cash for installations and troubleshoots structural issues, the artist also has a responsibility to work within the allotted space, the curator added.

Earlier this year, Argentinean artist Adrian Villar-Rojas didn't mind that his colossal clay sculpture ended up in the trash after his exhibition finished.

"He really wanted it to grapple to the top of the ceiling," said Carrion-Murayari, of the piece created especially for the show in a studio next to the New Museum’s building.

"In the end, the only way to take it apart was to break it down."

The exhibition "Ghosts in the Machine" opens Wednesday, July 18, and runs through September 30 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery.