Art exhibit offers 'urban therapy' for NYers

By Cristian Salazar

Associated Press

Published: Friday, June 3 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, left, and collaborator Mel Bucholtz don laboratory coats as they prepare to train artists, musicians and architects for the first installation of the Guggenheim Museum's two-year project "stillspotting nyc," Tuesday, May 31, 2011, in New York. The project launches Thursday, June 2 at a Brooklyn warehouse converted by Reyes and Bucholtz into a temporary "clinic" where members of the public are invited to participate in collaborative, therapeutic experiences away from the persistent cacophony of the city.

Kathy Willens, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Noise never sleeps in the city. Streets are choked with vehicles that produce a near constant din of rumbling engines. Parks are often full of chattering crowds on sunny days.

The clamor is enough to make even the hardiest New Yorkers brainsick, thirsting for a spot of tranquility in the swirl of urban chaos.

An exhibit by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes that opened in a downtown Brooklyn storefront on Thursday for eight days in June could be just the palliative for the over-worked, over-stimulated New Yorker.

Called the "Sanatorium," it is a temporary clinic where visitors can participate in 15 different idiosyncratic and tongue-in-cheek therapies that aim to lighten the load of urban life. The therapies draw from Gestalt psychology, conflict resolution techniques, corporate coaching, psychodrama, art performance and hypnosis. Volunteers will be on hand to guide visitors through the activities.

"It's like a series of self-discovery games," said Reyes who was sporting a lab coat during a recent visit to the sprawling "Sanatorium," which covers two floors of an approximately 25,000-square-foot space. The artist is known for enigmatic, participatory works that blend sculpture, architecture and performance. Among his best known works is "Floating Pyramid," a 20-foot white pyramid cast off into a Puerto Rico bay in 2004, forcing people to swim out to reach it.

Crystal Butler, 42, is one of the volunteer "therapists." She said she could relate to the concepts at work in Reyes' clinic.

"New York has a level of human contact and activity and noise than I have ever come in contact with in any of the other cities I lived in," said Butler, who has lived in Washington, D.C., and Dallas, and recently moved here from Los Angeles. "People need more of a respite."

The exhibit is the first in a series of interdisciplinary works commissioned for a two-year project by the Guggenheim Museum exploring "stillness" that will include contributions from composer Arvo Part, architectural firms Snohetta and Solid Objectives and surprise performances throughout the city by the group Improv Everywhere.

An online component includes video and data studies of noise and stillness by graduate students, including an interactive map of about 270,000 noise complaints to the city's 311 line between 2004 and 2005.

A glance at complaints on the map recorded between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. demonstrates how ubiquitous and constant noise is: One caller said the resident in a nearby apartment at Ninth Avenue and West 43rd Street was "creating a disturbance by dropping item on the floor, moving furniture and generally making a lot of noise."

Up the street, another caller complained of "excessive noise coming from a delivery truck." And a couple blocks away, a caller complained of a man in a hallway yelling for somebody named "Tony" for 30 minutes.

Curator David van der Leer, who is originally from Holland, said he was struck by the commotion when he moved to New York City five years ago. "It's such a noisy city in comparison to other cities around the world," he said. "I wanted to do a project that was related to finding these quiet moments."

He said the "Sanatorium" could help visitors take a step back and reflect on their lives and the city around them.

"By doing so, I think we are creating a nice, quiet zone in downtown Brooklyn," he said.

Much like an actual clinic, visitors are greeted by receptionists, who determine what kind of therapy is appropriate to their needs, and then are directed to sit in a "waiting room" before being able to proceed.

There is "The Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes," where visitors curate miniature exhibits of their lives with the help of a therapist by placing small objects — tarot cards, trinkets, toys — that represent different phases of their life inside a maze-like model of a museum.

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