Nobody Cares That I Don’t Like Pop-Up Museums

Hannah Ridings
Will this trend ever go away?

I don’t think there’s a way I can possibly talk you out of going to the latest rainbow-colored, unicorn vomit, sweet-toothed photo booth, anachronistically futuristic, cotton candy-headed, pop-up “art” exhibit, is there?

After all, it’s time for you to stir up some FOMO with your #squadgoals real-life friends by duck-lipping your face, throwing up your fingers in an antiquated war protest symbol, Face-tuning the crow’s feet you’ve developed because you smile all the time (except when men tell you to, because Refinery 29 sold your data by preaching this feminist gospel), and posting it on your Instagram feed. And God knows you need to post that photo if you are ever going to reach influencer status, which you need if you want be invited to the next Bahamian cheese sandwich festival.

Phew, I got that off my chest. I feel a lot better. Actually, I’m totally cool with these pop-up museums going down in the annals of art history as the product of our generation. Have you been paying attention to the news lately? The world is a confusing place, filled with empty words, anger and violence. It’s unsurprising that rather than a passing trend, these photo-shoot experiences are only increasing in number.

2016 was a banner year for Instagram and a trash can year for the rest of the global marketplace.

tweet this

2016 was a banner year for Instagram and a trash can year for the rest of the global marketplace. Russia was interfering with an already confusing election, racism was spilling from the corners of the American rug, and women were finally being heard and sometimes even believed about sexual misconduct. Meanwhile, 90 million photos were being posted on Instagram per day and 200 million people were using the new Stories feature. It was also the year the Museum of Ice Cream, which is widely credited as the first of its kind, opened in New York’s Meatpacking District.

Inside a dark gallery at the Whitney Museum of American Art, an installation by Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria critiqued the Gulf Arab nations’ embrace of the American shopping mall. On the sunny sidewalk across the street, lines wrapped around the building as a sold-out crowd waited to enter brightly colored, well-lit rooms designed to make them look and feel good. At the Museum of Ice Cream, if you could pay the price of admission, you can eat ice cream, take photos and let other people know just how good you feel.

The Museum of Ice Cream traveled to Los Angeles next, where it was anointed by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian, and next to San Francisco, where it is still open. Along the way, it spawned a kind of Western phenomenon. In Dallas, we’ve seen Sweet Tooth Hotel, Psychedelic Robot, 1955, Holly Jolly, Ice Cream Wasted, and now, Rainbow Vomit and the particularly artless Fort Worth selfie shop, Snap 151.

There’s an understanding in psychology that only people with relatively safe lives are interested in portrayals of violence or danger. I wonder if only people who are safe from the intellectual maelstrom of our present moment can engage with complicated ideas in art and thus they turn to reality television and window-display art.

This is, of course, not to say that window displays aren’t artful, but that perhaps we’re turning to aesthetics to solve the overwhelming cognitive load of our current moment. Or, like, maybe when it comes to challenging art or ideas right now, we just can’t.

Maybe we need neon lights and angel wing murals and post-apocalyptic ice cream stores. Or maybe, we need truth and information and ideas and beauty. Or, maybe we need both. Or, maybe we need silence.

Here’s the reality for all the millennial snobs like me: Nobody cares that I don’t like pop-up museums. Not even me.