'Let's Fly,' the latest exhibition from the Balloon Museum, awakens childlike wonder in all of us

NEW YORK (AP) — The first thought that comes to mind when you enter the Balloon Museum for the “Let’s Fly” exhibit is the massive scale of the art.

It's easy to think of such an environment as having either professional-level balloon art or installations that rival the scale of a Thanksgiving Day Parade float, and that would be true. But it's the adventure of a theme park attraction that can awaken the childlike wonder in all of us.

That's definitely the intention according to Chiara Caimmi, who serves as the artistic production coordinator. She wants every installation to provide “some kind of interaction” with the audience.

“Sometimes it’s a relationship with the space where you enter a new world, or you have a different perception of the space you are in. You feel little or you feel big,” Caimmi said.

She calls it “an immersive experience through inflatable artwork.”

“We have 14 artists involved in our New York City exhibition, and so you are going to see all of these amazing artworks, one after the other,” Caimmi said.

Some installations are introspective, some put you in awe, while others literally make it about the journey. Take the “Flying Maze,” an inflatable labyrinth by French artist Cyril Lancelin. This large green inflated structure resembles a bouncy house you would encounter at a carnival or kid’s birthday party. Yet, it differs because you’re bouncing off the tubular walls while making your way through the narrow maze, a disco ball awaiting you in the center.

Whether physically or mentally, each installation takes the spectator on an immersive journey that contrasts the weightlessness of air and the heaviness of gravity in ways that would make Sir Isaac Newton proud.

“Hyperstellar” strongly emphasizes this concept. The signature installation by Hyperstudio provides an experience for the mind and body with a dash of whimsy. The massive space resembles a Las Vegas rooftop pool party where sound and vision affect the senses. And if that’s not enough — a jump into the enormous ball pit consisting of more than 1 million balls in a 9-million-square-foot space provides a rejuvenating feeling without getting wet.

“You can actually jump into a giant ball pit and somehow reconnect to your childhood while being inside the light and visual and sound performance,” Caimmi said.

German-Polish artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski, the creator behind “ADA” says the installations are all about inclusion.

“The idea of Balloon Museum is to create a space where artists meet the public and they meet by meaning everybody from the smallest to the oldest,” said Smigla-Bobinski.

Her installation honors the contribution of Ada Lovelace, the 19th century mathematician whose work with Charles Babbage discovered the groundwork on how binary code could provide instructions for computers.

Using a 12-foot ball inflated with helium, and 300 pieces of charcoal glued to holders on the ball, participants bounce the large floating sphere in a six-side space of white canvas to make a gigantic abstract drawing.

Other works include the outdoor setup of structures called “D.R.E.A.M.S.” This array of colorful buildings resembles an inflatable village, and more importantly, will be heated on cold winter days. Inside, “Lava Lamp” by Michael Shaw, is a psychedelically colored snake-like sculpture that adorns the upper level of the venue.

While the exhibition varies in content from each city the Balloon Museum takes up residency, there’s one constant, Balloon Street, where guests can be fully immersed and become part of the installations. Whether that means taking pictures with your head in the clouds — made of balloons, of course — or putting yourself inside a large red balloon, this is a section primarily dedicated to the guests.

Then there’s “BB,” which provides an introspective experience with mirrored mylar balloons inside a mirrored room that alters your perception between environment, subject and space. Lithuanian artist Tadao Cern wants viewers you to contemplate the possibility of endless reflection and possibilities without any pressure. Or you can simply enjoy the soundscape — the sounds of birds from Lithuania.

Premiering in Rome in 2020, the Balloon Museum has toured through Europe with its curation focused on inflatable art installations. It’s limited run in New York City at Pier 36 lasts until January 14.