The Rise of Instagram-Friendly Art Installations

Arielle Pardes, Wired:

One year and three cities later, the Museum of Ice Cream has graduated to cult status on Instagram. More than 241,000 people follow its page, and countless more have posted their own photos from within the space. (Instagram doesn’t show how many photos have been posted at a particular geotag, but there are over 66,000 images with the #museumoficecream hashtag.) All those grams have made the Museum of Ice Cream a coveted place to be: In New York, the $18 tickets to visit — 300,000 in total — sold within five days of opening. At its San Francisco location, which opened this month, single tickets went up to $38. The entire six-month run sold out in less than 90 minutes.

[Co-founder Maryellis Bunn] denies that Instagram played a significant role in how she shaped the museum. “I don’t think that social is what is driving what the Museum of Ice Cream does,” she says. Yet it’s hard to walk through the space and imagine it as anything but a series of Instagram backdrops. One room in the San Francisco space is filled with giant cherries and marshmallow clouds; in LA, there’s a room with strings of pink and yellow bananas strewn from the ceiling. Visitors are allotted about 90 minutes to explore the museum, but it’s hard to imagine what you’d do during that time if you weren’t taking photos.

My interpretation of the Museum of Ice Cream is that it’s an expression of unadulterated excitement — a fantasy made real. If it were presented in a pre-Instagram — even pre-photography — world, I think visitors would still get a hell of a lot of joy out of the fantastical nature of swimming in sprinkles. Still, it was created in a world where we all have a camera and an internet connection in our pants, and I think it’s a little disingenuous for Bunn to neglect the role of Instagram in its success — the team behind it features a “#MOIC” gallery on the installation’s website.

Nevertheless, I see parallels between this piece and Casey Newton’s from earlier this year about Instagram-friendly interior design. When I linked to that, I wrote that these interiors still feel like they’re embracing social media only at a surface level, and I see the same thing happening with the Museum of Ice Cream and the Color Factory. Both sure seem to be embracing the role that Instagram can play in enjoying and promoting the installations, but neither installation seems to be taking advantage of their photo-friendliness beyond merely what they look like.

I would love to see artists pushing the use of Instagram beyond promotion. What if Instagram was integral to the experience of the artwork? What if an artwork explored how some of us are prone to sharing our experiences like they’re trading cards? What about using an Instagram-friendly installation to demonstrate the disconnect between our curated-for-Instagram selves and our more private reality? I think exploring topics like these would turn photogenic installations from novelty into critical artworks.