NEW YORK (AP) -- It's like entering a wondrous dream: gauzy pastel- tinted fabrics forming tentlike structures and tunnels with aroma-filled hanging pods within arm's reach. A pool filled with plastic balls and a multicolored carpet invite playful activity.
This is not a playground. It's a massive multi-sensory art installation at the Park Avenue Armory that evokes a storybook sense of awe, and that no doubt will bring out the child in everyone who enters it.
Enter, not just see. That's because Brazilian artist Ernest Neto encourages visitors to touch, smell, kick off their shoes and lie down as they discover his ethereal sculpture.
Titled "anthropodino," it is the annual inaugural work commissioned by the nonprofit Park Avenue Armory specifically for the building's vast 55,000-square foot, 80-foot high Wade Thompson Drill Hall.
The see-through Lycra fabric dangles from the steel latticework ceiling of the 1877 drill hall to create a huge canopy over the walkways and cavernous spaces tautly wrapped in the same net cloth over a bone-shaped plywood skeleton fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. The stalactitelike pods protrude through the fabric at varying heights.
One cavernous room holds a huge purple bean bag in which to loll around. Another beckons inside with its oversized mattress and assortment of aromatic pillows of lavender, chamomile, ginger and cumin.
Nearby, visitors can jump in a pool filled with thousands of plastic balls.
Although fragile-looking, the installation is extremely sturdy and able to withstand even the most rambunctious participants.
"This is a place that demands an awe-inspiring scale and a work that reaches out to people, that invites them in," said Tom Eccles, the exhibition's curator. "One of the remarkable things about the drill hall and the way Ernesto Neto approached making a work here is that it creates a new kind of space."
Neto, an affable man with a full head of curls and a stream-of-conscious way of speaking in his heavily accented English, said, "I think it is magic, this place in the middle of uptown."
He likened the work — his largest to date — to that of a hand, with the top canopy representing the palm and the tunnels and pods the fingers.
But even more, the sculpture represents the "continuity between the body and the landscape" because "the important thing is to enjoy life," said Neto, who makes his home in Rio de Janeiro.
"I think everything we see here is a symbolic representation of the body; the mathematical connection that we see here is the same as what is inside (us)," the artist added.
Eccles said the greatest challenge that the drill hall presented was its sheer scale.
"This is an enormous open area, one of the largest covered areas in New York City," he said. In the hands of an artist such as Neto, the epic project seemed almost easy because of his ability to create "with very limited resources."
Hundreds of yards of the hand-sewn fabric arrived at the armory in three small boxes. The frames were made in New York from Neto's computerized renderings, and everything was assembled on site in seven days with a crew of less than a dozen people.
"What we needed was sort of these rock climbers, riggers who could scale up onto the rafters and then be able to hang this work from there," Eccles said.
The Park Avenue Armory was formed in 2007 with a commitment "to provide artists the opportunity to develop unconventional projects that are best realized outside the formal constraints of a white cue gallery or a proscenium theater," said Rebecca Robertson, organization's president and CEO.
It has already realized those goals with a number of large-scale projects in collaboration with other organizations, such as the epic production last year of Bernd Alois Zimmerman's complex opera, "Die Soldaten," with the Lincoln Center.
But the commissioning project is the first that the organization has undertaken on its own. Selected artists will be invited to create site-specific works that they would not be able to do anywhere else. They will be able to use the drill hall or any or all the armory's 16 period rooms, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Stanford White.
Reminiscent of the great train stations of Europe, the armory was built both as a military institution and social club by the National Guard's prestigious Seventh Regiment.
The commissioning work will continue its long tradition for large balls and fairs, beginning in 1879 when the drill hall was transformed into a Moroccan souk, and later hosted Martian and bovine theme balls.
The show on Manhattan's Upper East Side runs through June 14.
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