“Is this art?” is a question that predates the digital age. But the “rise of made-for-Instagram exhibits,” as Wired explores in this video, throws a social media-shaped wrench into that query: if an installation is created for the sole purpose of becoming Insta-famous, does that make it less worthy of being called art?
In the video, Wired's Arielle Pardes talks to creators of two such spaces: Jordan Ferney, founder of the Color Factory in San Francisco and Maryellis Bunn, founder of the Museum of Ice Cream, with locations in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Both the Color Factory and Museum of Ice Cream are a lifestyle bloggers’ playground, filled with comically oversized props with beautiful shades of pastels adorning the walls and Instagram-worthy moments in every corner. At the Color Factory you can run through a room of ribbons or have a snow machine blow colored confetti on you. At the Museum of Ice Cream you can wander through a room of hanging ombre bananas or take a dip in the Sprinkle Pool like Katy Perry did. (I have many questions about this—do they refresh the sprinkles or would I be bathing in the same sprinkles as Katy Perry?) The exhibits are designed with the idea that people want to touch, play and ‘gram spaces to their hearts’ content. Ferney touches on this in the video, describing how the Color Factory is a “12,000 square foot color experience.”
While many museums are beautifully designed and some have interactive elements, the difference with these spaces is that they were made for Instagram in ways that affect the way you experience them offline. Talking about the lighting, Ferney says that while “maybe a warmer light would’ve felt better to be there,” in person, they opted for harsher light seeing as “a wider light looks better on Instagram.”
The Museum of Ice Cream was “designed to be reproduced on Instagram as much as it is to be enjoyed in real life,” Pardes says. Unlike traditional museums, Bunn adds, “we’re a brand.” The idea is to get people to be an active participant, rather than observer, in the space (if you can get in, of course—tickets to the Museum of Ice Cream have been sold out for months).
These installations, unlike say the famous pink Paul Smith wall in Los Angeles that’s been Instagrammed into oblivion, seem to provide value aside from a good Instagram photo though: namely, they’re fun.
Ferney says that “we can make a beautiful photo that will look really good on the internet” adding “but it was really important to me that Color Factory was more than that.” Each room was designed in collaboration with artists, and was meant to give people the chance to do something that they wouldn’t or couldn’t do in their day-to-day routine, like play in a room full of ribbons or run through snow machines shooting out confetti.
But if they’re fun for a photo, and not necessarily as good offline, what does that mean for their so-called status as “art"?
As to the question of whether these spaces qualify as art, Ferney wisely responded that “I’m not gonna be the one to say if it’s art.” That seems fair given that “art” is a highly subjective category.
And to be clear, Instagram has changed how we experience art in more ways than one. Notably, it’s made “traditional” museum-going look different. Even “no photography” signs can’t stop people from sneaking pictures of famous pieces of art (remember when the Metropolitan Museum of Art banned selfie sticks?) and at institutions where photos are allowed, you’re sure to see people post artsy pictures of themselves looking at art. Ferney talks about this in the video too, noting that at SFMOMA “everyone is just trying to get Instagrams.”
There’s a lot more to be said about how viewing art through our phones then posting it on social media changes our experience of museum-going. (Not to mention the fact that there’s an ongoing conversation in the art world about whether art gets “diminished” through reproduction or posting a photo of it online.)
But the bigger issue here is not that these spaces are made for Instagram, as seemingly everything today is made with Instagram in mind. It’s that these spaces are created to be adult playgrounds and a huge part of that play depends on being able to prove that you’ve played. (As the saying goes, Instagram or it didn’t happen.) It is not experiencing for the sake of experience: it’s doing something specifically so you can record it and post it to your followers.
Plus, these whimsical wonderlands encourage you to shake loose from your daily routine, but also rest on the idea that you’ll be grabbing your smartphone to do it. And to think that spaces are made less habitable in real life so that they work better on social media is a strange thought indeed.
Watch the video here.