Viewed as conventional sculptural objects, Ernesto Neto’s recent works have a queasy, overblown quality that I’ve never found particularly appealing. While always expertly made and installed, they have tended to feel somehow rather collegiate—playful, yes, but in a heavy-handed style. I was harboring similar feelings about the artist’s current show, a split-level madhouse of crocheted polypropylene and polyester nets, bundles and blobs, when something unexpected happened. Taking a second look around The Island Bird, a huge rope-and-plastic-ball construction suspended from the ceiling of the gallery’s downstairs room, I noticed a fellow visitor apparently trapped inside the work. It was a tense moment, but as her friend’s laughing encouragement soon made clear, this was apparently the way the work was meant to be experienced—from within.
Something about this simple shift makes Neto’s project immediately more endearing; rather than simply alluding to the possibility of a new perspective, The Island Bird—and the show’s other, larger works—actively embodies it. But while the artist frames the viewer’s fantastic voyage as one of relaxation, some will find it distinctly anxiety-inducing. As the hanging walkway creaks and sways beneath one’s feet, it sometimes feels like collapse is mere moments away.
SoundWay, a corridor made of rope fringed with bells and seedpods, has a gentler feel, chiming softly as one passes through. Upstairs, The Sun Lits Life, Let the Son throws potted plants and a sprinkling of herbs and spices into the mix, transforming the skylighted space into a kind of phantasmagorical hothouse.—Michael Wilson