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October 9, 2005 - February 20, 2006 at The Museum of
Contemporary Art (MOCA), Geffen Contemporary
, Downtown

by Diane Calder

Carsten Höller, “Upside Down Mushroom
Room,” 2000, Mushrooms: polystyrol,
polyester, wood, paint, metal construction,
electrical motors; ca. 4 revolutions per
minute; length: 2-10 ft, cap diameter:
2-9 1/2 ft; Room: plasterboard, wood,
neon light, glass, acrylic paint, iron structure:
40 1/4 x 24 x 15 3/4 ft; 14 3/4 x 19 3/4 x 41 ft.
Collection of Fondazione Prada
Photo © Attilio Maranzano

assume vivid, "Homo Crap #1"
(detail), 2005, multimedia installation,
dimensions variable.

Tom Friedman, "Untitled," 2005,
rigid insulation, 96 x 16 x 16".

Pipilotti Rist, "Related Legs (Yokohama
Dandelions)", 2001, one mirror scanner and
computerized control box, two dvd players,
one audio system, steel cables, lace curtains,
children's chairs, dimensions variable
Collection of Adam Sender. Courtesy of the
artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.
It’s date night and all face-to-face interactions are spontaneously interrupted as heads turn towards a fun loving threesome seated on a padded bench moving along a glide path parallel to the surface of “Super Nova,” a 43’ long painting depicting animated psychedelic mushrooms. A cheer goes up from the crowd as three pairs of arms shoot into the air in a gesture of bravado common to those who get their thrills riding amusement park roller coasters.

Jeppe Hein’s “Moving Bench #2” is as good a place as any to board curator MOCA Paul Schimmel’s dizzying, hallucinatory vehicle: “Ecstasy: In and About Altered States.” Lighting up the cavernous space with no visible signs of restraint on installation costs or the consumption of electrical wattage, the show features the work of 30 international artists who “experiment with the basic mechanisms of perception, asking us to expand our notions of reality and to accept that the experience of art is itself an altered state.”

Catalog essays by Schimmel and others validate this premise, tracing “Ecstasy’s” roots back through Dionysian rites, Bernini’s transcending Ste. Theresa, Surrealism, and California’s Light and Space movement. It’s when they reach Postmodernism’s “questioning of the strictures of rational order” that we get some insight into why this show makes sense now, and what it tells us about its audience and the tenor of our time.

The majority of works on view were created by artists who grew up in the afterglow of the ‘60’s, remembered nostalgically as a time of mind expanding dreams of countercultural reform. There were hippies in communes--making love not war, initiating feminist reforms, advances in civil rights and an expanded vision of our planet captured for the first time from space, inspiring national pride and efforts to work in harmony to protect the earth’s environment.

Things didn’t work out as planned.

When the consequent mood of disappointment, despair and vulnerability are viewed as a broader cultural indication of the obsessive longings for intensified feelings, heightened sensory experiences and intimacy manifested in the recreational drug and rave scene of the ‘90s, a show named “Ecstasy” makes perfect sense. Here artists enable viewers to safely and vicariously experience the disjunctions in scale and disruptions of spatial orientation created and reported by those who have variously entered altered states of consciousness.

Klaus Weber’s crystal fountain, which purportedly flows with LSD (a drug once studied by the CIA as a potential mind control agent or chemical weapon), is shielded by a glass wall high enough to ward off those tempted not to “just say no.” (The guard on alert nearby is probably not an undercover drug enforcement agent.)

Tom Friedman’s minimalist monolith, about to feel the sting of a model airplane, acts like a signpost. Its stele-like pillar casts a shadow that points the way towards more visually active works positioned to distract viewers from its ominous message.

Among the most compelling work is a politically and sexually explicit multimedia, collaborative homage to New York’s disco and gay activism scene, orchestrated by the artist known as “assume vivid astro focus.” Don’t get so disorientated by the mirrored surfaces that intensify the effect of the two-headed 30-foot sculpture of a naked Brazilian pornography star that you miss the beaded curtain image of Pope Benedict XVI on your way out.

If your preferences run more towards the sublimely beautiful, step into Erwin Redl’s installation, “MATRIX II,” an awesome array of tiny LED lights hanging in space, forming patterns and grids that shift with every move a viewer makes. Or immerse yourself in the fog and pulsating light of Pierre Huyghe’s space, underscored by Eric Satie’s haunting music.

Worthy of close attention and more familiar to west coast audiences are works by Charles Ray and Fred Tomaselli. Become disorientated in Carsten Holler’s “Upside-Down Mushroom Room,” and peek through lace curtains at Pipilotti Rist’s amazing two channel video projections. Watch Chico Aoshima’s alternatively utopian and apocalyptic animated universe expand across its five panel plasma screen. Even darker are the uncanny paintings by Glenn Brown that mess with Old Master portraits. The astonishing monumental pencil drawings by Paul Noble are layered with hidden language that melts into the architectural landscape when viewed from a distance.

Finally we come full circle, back to Takashi Murakami’s “Super Nova.” Both time and space are taken for a ride in the auspicious placement of Hein’s bench, in front of the seven paneled mural. It conflates imagery from anime (animation) and manga (comic book culture) with Japan’s long history of decorative screen painting, blurring lines between popular consumerism and fine art, climaxing in the big bang of a cloud sized mushroom at it’s center.