When Joshua and I were first married we lived on East 2nd St. in Alphabet City. There was a garage band recording studio/drug den on our corner, the Hells Angels on 3rd St. and CBGB’s a couple of blocks away on the Bowery. South of CB’s the Bowery became something of an industrial wasteland at night, and it was easy to imagine it as hunting grounds for the infamous Bowery Boys gang of the mid-19th century.
Today, though the Hells Angels club remains as a bastion of tough, the drug den is a high rise doorman building, and CBGB’s is only a memory. The Bowery is no longer so scary, and I can imagine that the Bowery Boys who ruled the Five Points section of Manhattan 150 years ago would be appalled at the presence of the New Museum, located on the Bowery at Prince St.
This was my first trip to the Bowery in years, and although it is a lot cleaner and sophisticated than I remember it, it still retains enough of its’ grit and character to be recognizable. I love the general area, which, between the Bowery and Broadway, is an eclectic mix of old and new with a little Italian thrown in for good measure. Our reason for visiting the New Museum today was to participate in artist Carsten Höller’s exhibit “Experience”, the centerpiece of which is a slide which starts on the 4th floor and ends on the 2nd.
Höllers likes to disorient people and to challenge their perceptions. As far as the slide was concerned, we initially wondered why bike helmets were required. When you ride it however, you find out, because for almost the first two floors you go in a gentle curve (much like a very large ‘tornado slide’) but then, when you are almost to the bottom, the slide twists unexpectedly the other direction. The helmet comes in handy at that point, because if you are not looking in front of you at the slide but instead through the plexiglass above you at the museum as it flies by, you get thrown from one side of the tube to the other before being dumped out onto a thick cushioned mat at the end.
After the slide, the rest of the exhibit was somewhat anticlimactic (the kids were too young to take part in the ‘tank’, in which you disrobe – only one person is allowed in at a time for privacy – and then float in heavily salted water. I told them we’d go to Israel and we can get the same effect in prettier surroundings by swimming in the Dead Sea).
The Experience was definitely worth the 3 trains and several blocks it took to get there. If you are near the city or planning to be here sometime in the next few months, put the New Museum on your list of things to do. The exhibit is great, and the neighborhood is classic New York, with lots of little independent shops (and even an indie bookstore) leading the way to the big name, high end retailers up and down Broadway.