Spicy Fleshy Wonderland: Installation by Ernesto Neto

They’re vaguely anatomical, looking like microscopic views of cells, bacteria or organs. Some resemble giant udders, while others are big soft organically shaped cushions that hold you like a womb. No doubt about it, Ernesto Neto’s ‘Anthropodino’ installation at the Park Avenue Armory was a tad unusual; C-Monster called it “mom’s pantyhose gone fantastically amoebic”.

Stretched around a skeletal wood frame is what seems like acres of mesh fabric, suspended from the ceiling by nothing but weights and counter-weights, and filled with spices like citrus and cloves. The theme here is ‘comfort’, and visitors making their way through the bewildering maze are tempted – no, beckoned – to lay down on squishy surfaces and relax for a while.

While some see the fleshy shapes as maternal and others as erotic, the exhibition is meant to seduce, and Neto, of Rio de Janeiro, goes directly against museum etiquette by making his art intentionally tactile. Inspired by the sensual culture of his home country, Neto wants viewers to feel free to look, touch and smell – but the artist is also motivated by a drive to infuse his works with humanity.

“The whole anthropodino idea considers the human being in a scientific way, not only as an individual or as a part of society, but in the sense of an organ,” Neto told Art in America Magazine. “In society, the human being must be an organ or cell. So this is a cell. The drawing of this piece depicts a cellular structure — mytochondria with ribosomes and membranes. This piece acts as a center of energy for the people who move around it.”

“I assume the position of anthropologist as a human being. I am interested in the animal that exists in us — the monster, the dinosaur, the imaginary. It’s weird because the dinosaurs did exist — archeologists dig up their bones to prove it — but there is still something imaginary about them because we’ve never seen them. I was thinking of imaginary animals when I chose this title, and about this image of the bones. These structural joints that hold the piece look like bones. They hold the piece up. “

‘Anthropodino’ inhabited most of the 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall for several months in summer 2009 and sadly is no more, but you can see lots of photos on Flickr.