How do you really feel?
Sad, stressed, or confused? Money troubles keep you up? Breakup got you down? Oppressed by the noise and clamor of big city life?
The Guggenheim can help.
Not in the reverie-in-the-chapel-of-modernism way prescribed by the museum’s Fifth Avenue flagship. Pedro Reyes, the artist who wants to ease your pain, is firmly against spirituality, though he draws on meditation, shamanism, confession, oracles, mudras and a host of other multicultural practices for the 16 “urban therapies” offered by his temporary clinic, Sanatorium.
Sponsored by the museum and housed in a former hardware store in downtown Brooklyn, Sanatorium begins its second and final weekend run June 9. It’s the inaugural project of Stillspotting NYC, a two-year initiative, supervised by assistant curator David van der Leer, that aims to carve out seas of tranquility in each of New York’s five boroughs. Reyes’s solution is a serene, somewhat surreal facility that wobbles between reality and parody as it channels art therapy, theater exercises, speed dating, Lucy van Pelt and Joseph Beuys. Each visitor is at once patient and performer, and the placebo is in fact the cure.
In the artist’s deliberately generic, low-tech setting, the empathetic and well-spoken volunteer therapists (selected — cast, really — with the help of the museum’s human resources department) help patients sample the 16 creative, sometimes provocative tasks. In Goodoo, you channel positive healing energy toward a loved one by affixing charm-like objects to a doll. Onthological Algebra translates your emotional dilemmas into a mathematical formula. In Epitaphs, you sum up your existence in fewer words than the average Tweet. In other therapies, you learn to redirect your hands, your eyes and your senses in ways that reduce the cacophony in your mind.
As social sculpture that aims to heal the world one averted panic attack at a time, Sanatorium is great — for some. Sure, the $15 fee is the cost of a back massage at a nail salon or a decent glass of wine. But those who don’t have the two hours and/or $15 often need urban therapy the most. I hope that if Reyes syndicates the piece, as he desires, he’ll find a way to let visitors pay what they can. Also — at least during my two visits — the guard-to-staff racial divide recapitulated the one at the uptown museum, which sends a message to walk-ins at the clinic, located in the diverse Metrotech Center area. Time to think a bit more outside the spiral?
My own favorite treatment was Vaccine Against Violence (modeled on a program conceived by former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus), where I achieved catharsis by kung-fu kicking a dummy. After, I asked my “therapist” what she does in real life. “This is real life, isn’t it,” she said sweetly, and also logically. Then she reached for a vial and gave me a little white pill. It was a Tic Tac. It was very refreshing. Did it help? Well, as they say about chicken soup, it didn’t hurt.