Sensory Overload

How does this artist use materials to appeal to the senses?

How does this artist use materials to engage the senses?

Ernesto Neto (b. 1964), anthropodino, 2009. Lycra fabric, plywood, and spices. Paul Goguen/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

How does Neto’s choice of materials give the sculpture meaning?

Ernesto Neto makes large-scale installations. The Brazilian artist invites viewers to explore these works using all of their senses. He installed his massive anthropodino inside the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Built in the 1870s, the Armory originally housed a local branch of the National Guard. Neto created anthropodino in the drill hall, which is in the center of the Armory and has 55,000 square feet of floor space and a ceiling height of 80 feet.

The title anthropodino is a play on the words anthropology and dinosaur. Anthropology is the study of cultures across time. Neto travels frequently and sees himself as an amateur anthropologist. “The anthropologist tries to find a structure for society,” he says. And as a sculptor, he thinks about how to build or find structure for a sculpture and “how to put humanity in it.” With anthropodino, Neto says, he is exploring “the animal that exists in us—the monster, the dinosaur, the imaginary.”

On May 14, 2009, anthropodino opened to the public and ran for one month. In that brief time, more than 30,000 people experienced the interactive sculpture through sight, sound, touch, and smell.

Ernesto Neto is a Brazilian artist. He makes massive installations that viewers explore using all their senses. In 2009, he designed a large-scale artwork in the center of the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. The Armory was built in the 1870s. It originally housed a local branch of the National Guard. The center room has 55,000 square feet of floor space and ceilings 80 feet high.

Neto titled his installation anthropodino. He played with the words anthropology and dinosaur to come up with the title. Anthropology is the study of cultures over time. Neto says anthropodino explores “the animal that exists within us—the monster, the dinosaur, the imaginary.”

On May 14, 2009, anthropodino opened to the public for one month. In that time, more than 30,000 people interacted with the sculpture. They experienced it through sight, sound, touch, and smell.

Notes on anthropodino

1. Neto wanted to “touch his audience with smell,” so he poured different spices into the fabric sacks suspended from the canopy. The yellow stains are from turmeric. The brown stains are from cloves and cumin. Some art critics have described the sacks as “limbs,” while others have likened them to stalactites that form from dripping water in caves.

1. Neto hoped to “touch his audience with smell,” he says. So he suspended fabric sacks from the ceiling and poured different spices into each one. The yellow stains are from turmeric. The brown stains are from cloves and cumin. Some art critics have described the sacks as “limbs,” like arms or legs. Others compared them to formations made by dripping water in caves.

2. Neto liked the raw emptiness of the drill hall. He described it as a “shell, physically and metaphorically” protecting his sculpture.

2. Neto liked how empty the giant drill hall was. He described it as a “shell” that protected his sculpture. 

3. The tunnel-like arms extending out of the main dome invited visitors into the belly of the sculpture for a fully immersive experience.

3. Visitors can walk through the arm-like structures, like going through a tunnel, into the belly of the sculpture. There they have a fully immersive experience, meaning all their senses are engaged.

4. Neto used pale, sheer fabric for both the canopy that hung from the ceiling and the “skin” that stretched over the bone-like structural joints of the dome and its arms.

4. The dome and arms are a skeleton-like structure. Neto stretched pale, sheer fabric over this structure like a skin. He also used this fabric for the canopy hanging from the ceiling.

5. The multisensory experience Neto created for visitors included a calming hug from a giant, dark-purple pillow in one chamber and, in another area, the delightful squeal of children diving into a pit filled with bright-aqua plastic balls.

5. Neto’s work is multisensory. It appeals to all the senses. In one chamber, visitors hugged a giant, purple pillow. In another area, they can see and hear kids jumping in a pit of bright-blue plastic balls.

6. Light easily passed through the sheer fabric, creating depth and shadows as well as a sense that the sculpture’s organic shapes created a living being.

6. Light easily passes through the sheer fabric. This creates depth and shadows. It also draws attention to the sculpture’s organic shapes, making it seem alive 

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