Museums of the Moment

With their interactive opportunities and picture-perfect moments, pop-up museums have become more than a trend for millennials 
April 1, 2018
5 mins read

Ask yourself, when was the last time you visited a museum? If you can’t remember, maybe it’s because museums are too big and overwhelming to thoroughly explore, or too classical and stuffy for your tastes.

Or, consider the fact that major museums distance you from the art by creating a physical barrier between you and the artwork, be it a glass cover, a rope or the security guard glaring at you from the corner of the room. Pop-up museums, an up-and-coming trend, are out to change all that.  

There are several flavors of pop-up museums. With each type, though, the exhibit is relatively small in scope and the location is less formal than a classical art edifice. Some pop-up museums even allow their viewers to interact with the art, be it by literally jumping into it or by taking and posting pictures with it. 

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) goes further in describing pop-ups as turning exhibit visitors into participants that interact with the exhibit theme by leaving something of themselves there, whether that token is a note or personal possession. The goal, MAH says, is to “bring people together in conversation through stories, art, and objects.”  

Pop-up museums also tend to be more trendy or quirky than their traditional counterparts. The Museum of Failure, for example, encourages its visitors to embrace failure in a fun, honest display.

The recent Los Angeles exhibition featured everything from Coca-Cola’s short-lived Diet Coke and coffee mixture, to a confession area where people could write down confessions of their own flops. “Such notes have included voting for Trump, marriage regrets, and majoring in journalism,” reported Forbes. 

The creator of the exhibit, psychologist Dr. Samuel West, told the magazine, “Based on my original criteria, which was to explore organizational learning from failure and contributing to the discussion of failure, then definitely [it’s a success].” 

Aside from their personal touch, part of the appeal of these exhibits lies in their ephemerality. Psychology 101 tells us that scarcity sells. In other words, if someone tells you that there are only four sets of headphones left, you’re more likely to buy a pair.

The same goes for these museums, which offer only a limited viewing period. The idea that you’re going to see something unique and temporary makes going feel more special. For the younger generation, which is used to a more rapid pace of life, these types of exhibits are ideal. 

These museums also uniquely target a younger audience with their social media appeal. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Flora Tsapovsky explored this idea, writing that there are “plenty of social media-savvy, fashionable Millennials who are eager to swing on a swing, crawl into a mirrored cave and climb a unicorn, all striving for that million-likes photo.”

Tsapovsky’s article cites Glen Helfand, an art critic and associate professor of visual and critical studies at California College of the Arts, saying, “Social media and digital culture in general have cultivated an attitude for increasingly quick consumption and dissemination of images.” These fun, easy and photogenic museums are a true fit for the so-called selfie generation.  

Exhibits such as The Color Factory, which features a confetti room and a giant yellow ball pit, are the perfect place to nab the ideal snap or selfie. What better place to take a picture than in front of a background that Tsapovsky describes as a “bold, iridescent playland”? 

Pop-up museums are a creative way for an audience not only to see art but to touch it and to contribute to it themselves. Their bright colors and playful exhibits have captured the interest of millennials, who can take the opportunity to capture the perfect selfie and to interact with modern art.

The museums offer art that is simply fun, rather than just an experience in front of glass barriers. If you’re particularly inspired by these museums, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History offers some advice for making your own pop-up museum. Get out there and create! 

If the idea of a personal touch and a good picture to send to friends has got you hooked, here’s a list of noteworthy pop-ups. 

– The Color Factory, in San Francisco. Open March and April 2018. 

– The Museum of Failure, in Hollywood. Opens March 8, 2018. 

– Museum of Selfies, in Glendale, California. Open April 1 to May 31, 2018. 

– Happy Place, in Los Angeles. Open April 26 to May 27, 2018. 

– Museum of Ice Cream, in San Francisco, Miami and Los Angeles. Currently sold out. 

Kayla Lichtman, Middlebury College

Writer Profile

Kayla Lichtman

Middlebury College
Political Science

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