Ernesto Neto

New York

at Park Avenue Armory


Could it be that Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s anthropodino actually felt a tad small? The statistics for this succession of cavelike chambers and corridors, many of them adorned with spice-filled stalactites, suggest it should have been otherwise. Organized by curator Tom Eccles for Creative Time, anthropodino measured 180 by 120 feet overall, with one elephantine spice-laden trunk drooping an impressive 60 vertical feet. A marvel of tinted translucent Lycra stretched over bone-shaped plywood supports, it was billed as Neto’s largest sculptural work to date.

Yet surrounded by the Armory drill hall’s 55,000-square-foot space and 80-foot-high, barrel-vaulted ceiling (its soaring rafters were styled on a 19th-century train shed), the work looked more like an inflatable caterpillar than a giant, sense-stimulating immersive womb—or, as Neto enthused at the preview, an artwork that would “kind of hug people in a way.”

I didn’t feel hugged. And given the profusion of turmeric, cloves, ginger, black pepper and cumin held inside dangling, tube-shaped pods, I was disappointed by anthropodino’s lack of fragrance. Spices benefit from tight, sealed environments. Here their aroma dissipated. The odor was more of public relations than actual sensory experience.

Still, in keeping with Neto’s previous works, anthropodino exuded feel-good values, and clearly appealed to art-loving parents seeking a cultural outing for the entire family. In the past, I myself have savored my sons’ shrieks of glee as they frolicked shoeless on a massive purple Neto pillow and inside a semi-enclosed Neto tunnel. The new work featured an especially child-friendly “pool” filled with plastic balls that looked like bubbles. A rave review in the New York Times no doubt contributed to the exhibition’s popularity (it drew 31,000 visitors in its one-month run). But at $10 a ticket for general admission (senior and student tickets cost $8, and visitors 18 and under were admitted free), its populism came at a price.

Citing a party at his home in Brazil, where adults and kids playing together “created a kind of sculpture,” Neto endorsed his work’s appeal to children, as do I. What I lament, however, both as a critic and as a parent, is how easily manipulated we are by what the artist—and his promoters—say, even when our senses lead us to different conclusions.