Artist Lures Sweaty New Yorkers to an Imaginary Swimming Pool

B.Thom Stevenson’s 'Schrödinger's Pool' installation uses smell, sound, and light to create a summer oasis on the roof of Half Gallery. But is it all just a mirage?

by Kate Messinger
Sep 2 2015, 1:50pm

Photographs courtesy of Half Gallery

In the heat of a New York City summer, it feels as if the only thing we spend more time talking about than the shocking amount of sweat dripping down our bodies is just how the hell we can find a pool in this god forsaken town. So when an like artist B.Thom Stevenson takes a picture of one of his textual paintings floating seductively in crystal clear water, announcing the opening of his show Schrödinger's Pool at “the pool on the roof of Half Gallery,” people naturally get excited. The thing is, the pool doesn’t exist.


The artist with one of his paintings at the “pool”

Upon entering the Upper East Side townhouse gallery, the smell of chlorine wafts up the stairs, the sound of splashing can be heard faintly from the roof, a bathing suit hangs, still wet and dripping, and the ceiling dances with a reflection of summer light bouncing off a rare body of water in a hot city. Stevenson’s paintings, dichomatic juxtapositions of text and image that reappropriate artists like Picasso in lo-fi form, beckon visitors to the rooftop oasis. But as you reach the top of the stairs and the feeling of cool relief is only steps away, a rickety sign stops you in your path: the pool is closed. Or maybe, the pool was never there in the first place.

“Putting a pool on the roof was impossible,” says Stevenson about the deceiving installation. “I wanted to see if people would believe it. It’s kind of a prank, but it’s more of a prosthetic mirage.” The title itself should have been a dead giveaway, riffing off Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger's famous (or infamous) "Schrödinger’s Cat" thought experiment, which questions the paradoxical  state of something that cannot be seen. (In Schrödinger’s experiment, a cat is put into a box with poison and may or may not be dead). “There’s a fine line between treachery and mischief, and I didn’t want it to be too literal,” says the artist. And looking back at all the elements of the installation it’s clear that the pool is too good to be true. The reflection (from a projector) is a little too clean, the chlorine smell (from a spray bottle) a little too strong, and the pool sounds, which Stevenson recorded with musician and videographer Jon Lynn, are realistic, but slightly too stereophonic to be coming from outside.

“A swimming pool in New York City is not like a swimming pool elsewhere,” says Erin Goldberger, the director of Half Gallery. “In New York, a pool is an oasis and you are the lone desert traveler with a sand soaked shirt tied over your head. In the desert you are delusional; in New York you aren't on the list.”  


Nice day for a dip. Schrödinger's Pool on the roof @bthomstevenson

A video posted by Bill Powers (@halfgallery) on

We wanted to believe it, so we did. And although our pool dreams were foiled and we were fooled, at least at Schrödinger's Pool there was air conditioning and good art.

Schrödinger's Pool will be open until September 3rd at Half Gallery, 43 East 78th Street, New York.


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Swimming Pool
Half Gallery
B.Thom Stevenson
Schrödinger's Pool