Disclaimer: The Museum of Ice Cream is not a museum. It’s more like an indoor playground on confectionary-themed steroids. Instead of sculptures, it houses a swimming pool of sprinkles. Instead of walls covered in famous Renaissance paintings, the bubblegum-colored walls illuminate various shades of bright pink. Other notable decor include a rock-candy cave, a unicorn, and a rope swing surrounded by bananas. It’s not a day care center or your local ice cream creamery. Simply put, it’s an Instagram photoshoot set complete with props and bright colors.
Millennials and Museums
In the previous decades, museums have been the authority about artwork, artists, and interpretations of the work. Wanted to see the Mona Lisa? Then you would need to travel to Paris. The quality of photographs at the time did not do the painting justice. The museums were the only ones that could, and did, disseminate all of the artistic content. We turned to museums for guidance in the same way that we’d reference a phone book for the local pizzeria’s number or encyclopedias for a first grade project about zoo animals. However, now the digital age has rendered most information-holding books obsolete. We live in an age where Wikipedia has replaced encyclopedias. Google replaces the phone book. It begs the question: Do museums still matter?
For Maryellis Bunn, the founder of the Museum of Ice Cream, the answer is “not anymore.” She found fault with the way that New Yorkers engaged with the city’s institutions, and specifically, museums. She had a vision to transform the archaic and passive nature of museums to appeal to a selfie-obsessed demographic. The attempts to generate interactive museum exhibits with iMax movies were not enough. It was not only museums that she saw as outdated. Disneyland, too, offers minimal relevance to our culture. Disneyland seeks to provoke a thrill rather than social interaction. Unfortunately, this physical thrill from a theme park ride is no longer enough. We crave every follow, like, and comment that we receive from social media such that it creates a positive feedback loop and we always want more. It’s not only the purpose of Disneyland that fails to attract us, but also the duration of the experience. Quite frankly, many millennials even lack the attention span to spend an entire day at a themed park: it’s inevitable that we’ll divert our attention to focus on our phones and social media. Thus, came the birth of the “Museum” of Ice Cream.
The first MoIC opened in New York, and within the first five days of opening, 30,000 tickets were sold which sold out the museum. The San Francisco location sold out in less than 90 minutes. Evidently, people were pretty excited for a new backdrop to ‘gram. But civilians were not the only ones who seized this opportunity. The second museum in L.A. has garnered the attention of a multitude of different celebrities.
Beyonce, Jay Z, and Kylie Jenner all shared their experiences on social media.
Why is the museum so wildly popular? It’s not only about posting an aesthetically pleasing picture, but also fulfilling Bunn’s philosophy of “social squared.” She wanted to build exhibits that would encourage strangers to interact with each other, whether that meant asking them to take photos of each other or examining the artwork together. Bunn admits that “ice cream is just a way to get people in the door and feel safe.” After all, who wouldn’t want an excuse to take a picture in a pool full of sprinkles?
Art Made for Instagram
Jia Jia Fei, Director of Digital at the Jewish Museum of New York, has even broadened the scope of constructing museums for Instagram to constructing all art for Instagram. In the pre-digital phase, the message portrayed by museum-goers was: “This is what I’m seeing. I have seen.” Today, the message is: “I was there. I came, I saw, and I selfied.” Instead of taking pictures of art, we’re taking pictures of ourselves in these spaces.
The Museum of Ice Cream isn’t the only one of its kind. Down the road from the MoIC is the Color Factory, full of rooms that blend together similar interactive exhibits. One room is a giant yellow ballpit. Another room rains 100 pounds of confetti. Another is one giant a curtain of ribbons. The founder, Jordan Ferney, designed the space specifically for picture taking. While the experience of visiting is important, your satisfaction with the pictures that you take there are equally as important.“There were a few decisions we had to make,” she says. “Like, even with the lighting, where maybe a warmer light would have felt better to be there but a whiter light looks better on Instagram.” If you didn’t Instagram it, did you even go?
Instagrams from the Color Factory.
But is this still art? Art exists to answer life’s most difficult questions: Who are we? How did we get here? What does it all mean? But art like the Museum of Ice Cream is modified; it is also intertwined with commercialism. Tinder created an exhibit “Tinderland” that featured an ice cream sandwich swing and an iPad. Users swiped left or right to find their ice cream “match.” Dove handed out fresh chocolates to visitors. Brand sponsorship affects the meaning behind these spaces by altering the original focus of the piece.
As retail giants like Walmart continue to free up physical space in order to compete with Amazon, is this where physical real estate is headed? Will interactive museum exhibits optimized for selfies become the way our children learn world history? The Color Factory and the Museum of Ice Cream aren’t the only learning environments where we take selfies, and soon maybe we’ll be taking selfies to learn in the classroom.