October 15, 2018

The Existential Void of the “Pop Up” Experience

“I’ve spent the past few months going to as many temporary “experiences” as I could find in New York, to explore every broadly themed “mansion” and “factory” and “museum” possible before they all shutter and reconvert into the empty storefronts of high-rent blight. They included Color Factory, stocked with “participatory installations of colors”; Candytopia, an “outrageously interactive candy wonderland”; 29Rooms, a “groundbreaking art experience” dedicated to “expanding your reality”; and the Museum of Ice Cream’s spinoff space, featuring a “Pint Shop” and “tasting room” created in collaboration with Target that “re-envisions the grocery store, enabling a hyper-sensory experience.”

I realize that I have a “fun” job that it’s annoying to complain about: Oh no, I have to drink free wine and eat ice cream. But as my summer of pop-ups dragged on, I began to dread my evenings. What began as a kicky story idea became a masochistic march through voids of meaning. I found myself sleepwalking through them, fantasizing about going to a real museum. Or watching television. Or being on Twitter.

And yet, the “experience” has emerged as among the defining fads of my generation. There have been New York experiences centered on tea, dreams, eggs, illusions and cereal. Soon the Museum of Pizza, “the world’s first and only immersive art experience celebrating pizza,” will open. There’s one for dogs now, too: Human’s Best Friend, which offers 20 “photo moments” for your pet to endure.

By classifying these places as experiences, their creators seem to imply that something happens there. But what? Most human experiences don’t have to announce themselves as such. They just do what they do. A film tells a story. A museum facilitates meaning between the viewer and a work of art. Even a basic carnival ride produces pleasing physical sensations.”

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