Dangerous Art: One Pittsburgh Exhibit Sends Viewers to the Hospital

Art Lovers Beware, Exhibit Bites!

Not really, but authorities have shut down a popular Pittsburgh room-sized art exhibit after it left three viewers feeling seizure-like symptoms. The exhibit "ZEE" by Chicago-based Austrian artist Kurt Hentschalger is an interactive art experience involving thick artificial fog and bright strobing lights. 

Now, before you can enter the exhibit, hopeful viewers have to sign a waiver notifying them of the dangers of being completely submerged in light, sound and fog. The waiver tells the viewer that the artist cannot be held responsible for any injuries sustained.

Once the waiver is signed, small groups of people are taken through a thick fog filled room guided by ropes for ten to fifteen minutes where they experience a "loss of spatial orientation." Eerie music accompanies the other environmental distortions to let the viewer experience a total separation from the norm and an other-worldly experience. One viewer described it as "purely sensual" while another viewer asked, "If you didn't have a body, would this be what death is like?"


The latest victim, a 18 year-old girl from was treated at the scene for "seizure like symptoms" after leaving the exhibit. All people with photosensitive epilepsy, breathing or heart problems, migraines, claustrophobia and anxiety had been warned not to go inside. 

The installation is currently closed they retool it to make it a little more safe. Firefighters were even contacted to test the air quality with all of the thick artificial fog involved, but found that the fog was not harmful, even at the high levels used in the exhibit. Even with people being treated at the exhibit, Kurt Hentschlager, the artist who created the art exhibit, could not be reached for comment. 

The real question is whether this controversial exhibit should be changed before it reopens? It's typically okay if art is edgy, but can art be dangerous? Is it okay if it allows the viewer to experience or perceive something differently? If you watch the following video and see the reactions of the viewers who experienced ZEE as it is, is it wrong to change the exhibit when a waiver warns all voluntary viewers of danger and yet, the exhibit itself leaves viewers speechless?


The exhibit will be reopened once changes are made for it in the downtown Pittsburgh Gallery. The question still stands though, should art like ZEE be changed to protect the viewer? How do you feel about the changes being made to an exhibit to make it safer for the general public? Please, let us know in the comments below. 



Comments (14) -

Edward Hutton

Someone please tell me how this crap is art???????!!!!!!!

One more reason to leave Pittsburgh, what a depressing dump.  And I could care less of the Steelers, Pens, Butt Pirates, yada, yada, yada.

Jordan Hubbard

I think this blog post is really asking TWO questions:  "Can (or should) art be dangerous?" and "Is this particular art dangerous (enough that it should be changed)?"

I think the answer to the first question is yes.  Definitely yes.  Not all "art" is man made, as anyone who's stood at the edge of the grand canyon at sunset and looked down, or scuba dived amongst brightly colored corals in the indian ocean, will readily attest.  Those are beautiful, often transformative experiences and obviously dangerous in their own way, but countless thousands go out of their way to experience such things and would strongly resist any attempt to prevent them from doing so, so why should we accept limitations on any man-made attempts to create similar experiences?   We signed a waiver, we were informed of the risks, let us experience this exhibit exactly as the artist intended it to be experienced!

The answer to the second question is, at least in my humble opinion, no.  This is not dangerous art.  You can suffer an epileptic seizure from the flashing light of a television set.  Let's not go overboard here or pretty soon *everything* is dangerous!


This is art.
The few inept, despotic, arrogant and ignorant who think otherwise have no business becoming self glorified, opinionated experts in the subject matter.
To them, I say, enjoy your art of couch stabilizing while mesmerizing your senses to mind-programming broadcasting off a screen on your wall or table.


First, challenging art should be celebrated.  If people are warned ahead of time, the installation should not be changed.
Second, mr. Hutton, you are a depressing dump, not Pgh.  Get out of this proud glorious city as fast as you can.


Art should be beautiful, uplifting and viewed with the eyes.  Anything outside of these parameters is not art and should not be exhibited as such.


I think art is what we perceive it to be, it doesn't have to just be visual, it can  be feelable, taste, sound, smell or anything you can think of that could me thought to be art.  Don't limit yourself to just one sense or you will not get the whole experience of the art sensation.  If you only want to see art as a viewing experience you are looking at life with a very narrow perspective and I pity you for what you will miss in life with that kind of thinking!


First of all yes this is a legitimate work of art it's a genre called installation art where the focus is not on an object such as a sculpture or painting but on instead the experience. Installation art as the name suggests often encompasses an entire room or defined area that the piece is installed into by the artist.  It's often a mixed media creation in which the artist immerses you into their idea it can incorporate sound, sculpture, video, anything the artist's little heart desires to put in that space. Art has been more than paint on canvas for years, get over it.  
That being said this seems like a "fun" piece. People seem to be giving it a lot more trouble than it is worth. The artist is using fun house tricks to amuse the inner child of the viewer. Like most things the media gets a hold of it's getting blown way out of proportion. Labeled "dangerous" and given lots of free publicity. When stupid people come across ordinary things, as extraordinary as the media wants it to seem, too often ordinary things become "dangerous". Not because the things in and of themselves are harmful, but because people are too stupid to take their own safety into consideration. A table lamp becomes a dangerous thing if you take it into the bath tub with you. Epileptics should stay away from strobe lights. They know this. They were warned about this...yet some entered anyway and what do you know...they had a seizure.
Beyond the hype the piece comes of as gimmicky and I find viewer reaction videos of the piece the artist put out a bit tacky when you think of other things that illicit "viewer reaction" videos, and since we're online where these things were spawned I'll reference the illustrious "Two Girls, One Cup" viewer reaction youtube sensation. Good artwork speaks for it self. It does not have to promote itself in the same manner as internet shock porn. It comes off as the act of one that fears itself atop a one trick pony clinging onto the mane and riding it for all it's worth, hoping to get as far as he can before the audience realizes that that's all he's got to show. That's the challenge in creating good installation art. There's no singular beautiful object to sell. Once all the smoke clears all you've got is an empty room and an idea. It is a fine line between snake oil and good medicine. This is undergrad work at best. So though I've argued to say that yes this is art...granted...lol it's not great art. But it does get people talking about art that maybe other wise wouldn't. Anyone can enjoy their senses being played with, it doesn't take a fine arts degree to indulge in that. But it's not much more than that. I don't think that it could stand to be edited any further to be made safer for a public that apparently wouldn't know not to close their mouths looking up in the rain so as not to drown. What can they do? Take out the strobes? That would leave a dark room full of smoke... Removing the light source from a piece of art...can you SEE why that's a bad idea? People allergic to shellfish can't eat lobster. Epileptics can't safely go into this exhibit. Them's the breaks! Let the poor little art show be. Let it run it's course for what it's worth. The show will be over soon enough anyway. Let natural selection take care of  those too stupid to stay out.


for you who said art should be uplifting, beautiful, and seen with eyes....duuuuhhhh!!!   what about music, or blind people feeling sculpture,culinary arts, etc..?

Jason Schaeffer

I'd like to hit on multiple points here. Firstly, to qualify, I am an Artist. However, being an Artist does not automatically make me a lover of all forms and subject matter. I am just like everyone else. Some pieces work for me, others do not. Art is subjective, it is what ever you need it to be, at the moment that you experience it. Just because you don't understand it and/or it doesn't work for you, does not lessen the quality of the Art, nor does it make it less artistic.

Based solely on the article, I live in Kansas and probably won't be visiting Pittsburgh anytime soon, it is clear that the Artist and/or gallery went out of their way to warn any potential viewers of what they were about to experience. That people were injured as a result of the effects of that experience, is not the responsibility of the Artist nor of the Gallery. If the Artist chooses to change the exhibit to make the experience have a smaller impact, that is up to the Artist alone, and should not be the result of public pressure. As any Artist knows, you create what you yourself wants, and hope that others see your vision. You do not create, or more importantly, change to satisfy the will of the public. Occasionally aspects of an individual piece are changed because no Artist is ever satisfied. We always find things that aren't perfect, that need to be re-addressed. Sometimes this notion makes us our own worst enemy. But those changes should come from our own lack of confidence, and need for perfection, not from the viewer.

David Rahfeldt

informed consent should be the simple rule.

if the risks and hazards are fully revealed and consented to by the visitors, then anything should be allowed, up to and including things that will result in probable death ...

Just be SURE that the visitors are advised that it is "suicide art" and fully aware of the consequences.

Oh ... is suicide illegal ? Well change that law ... (humor)


Gary Goldstein

Whoa.. Everyone here is talking about art, some saying this is not art, but no one has defined what art is.
So, just what is art? Check out a few definitions.
Everyone is welcome to their own opinions, whether you like something or not, but it is arrogant and ignorant for anyone to think that they can determine what is or is not art.


For the uninformed a seizure can be a life threatening event. 911 is the appropriate action for this medical emergency.

This isn't art. This is a weapon or a medical experiment: seizure/migraine test. Before the 'experiment' was shut down the victims entered without knowing what they were in for. Some others may now know they suffer from light induced seizures and/or migraines. They should avoid some movies with high strobe content in the future.  

Art is supposed to be enjoyable. If it makes people sick, even some people, it is no longer art. Mass appeal has a lot of value to an artiest to make a living. This artiest needs to change jobs to weapons development or medical research. As it is the clueless artist and the exhibit hall are lucky that there are not bodies piled up from seizures.

Waver's will not help because someone who doesn't know they suffer from this could enter and hopefully survive the experience. If the rescuers and medical personnel can even find them in this exhibit. This fog/strobe environment looks to be a challenge to even notice if some one went into a Grand Mal seizure somewhere in it. Let alone find them...        


Sounds more like a theme park experience, than art. Just let people know what may occur and let them decide whether to try it or not. Some people get sick on roller coaster rides, but they still get on them. Can't control free will.


Sensory depravation and sensory control. I've experienced it in haunted houses, amusement park rides, concerts, clubs... Sound, light and visuals have a great effect on human perception. The people in the video without a doubt succumbed to that... and they were fascinated by the experience. I would like to see it. I'd be somewhat anxious though. The exhibit causes you to see things differently. Is it art? Absolutely.

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