The Color Factory Is Made for Instagram, but Is It Art?
The Color Factory, like many installations today, shows that Instagram isn’t only a key promotional tool—it’s become an essential component in an exhibit’s conception and design.
I left the Color Factory on a recent Thursday morning with the following: a blue plastic ball, a stranger’s sketch of my face, an azure notecard reading “eyes of Jake Gyllenhaal,” an orange pencil inscribed by Dave Eggers, four selfies, six emailed snapshots, and a stomach ache.
The installation, which comes to New York’s SoHo after a successful run in San Francisco last year, joins a series of similarly interactive exhibits indulging a much-written-about millennial preference to invest in experiences over material objects. The Color Factory, which opened on Monday, is a silly continuation of this trend. It’s also pretty fun.
Situated between a Starbucks and a Trader Joe’s, the Color Factory isn’t hard to spot from the street: its exterior has been trimmed with brightly painted stripes and circular bobbles as doorknobs.
Once inside, you’re invited to enter your email address in exchange for a kind of plastic credit card: scan it at various points through the walk-through to have snapshots emailed to you.
Designed by local artists and creatives, each of the 16 rooms includes a whimsical color-themed activity or display.
Early on, you sit across from a fellow museum-goer in a primary-colored cubicle divided by a glass partition, like visiting hour at a Wes Anderson penitentiary. Guided by audio instructions, you’re prompted to study your new friend, observing the colors of her face and clothing, before drawing her with one continuous pencil stroke.
Further on, you encounter enclosed glass cases displaying bizarre objects of fascination: a taxonomy of cornflakes, splatters of fake vomit, items found underwater like an old spoon and a Georgia driver’s license.
Other rooms are more interactive, like the space that encourages you to lie down on spinning pie charts and pose for a camera above. (Scan your card to receive a ready-made Instagram Boomerang.) Another room, designed by inventive sisters Lakwena and Abimaro, includes a series of dual xylophones that, when played, chime with harmonious notes in various music scales—a welcome aural complement to the endless regurgitations of rainbow.
But the most engaging installation belongs to culture writer Molly Young. Her room, refreshingly white with black text and arrows, contains a brilliant, room-size flowchart.
To begin, you make a choice: sunrise or sunset? Your selections, as you continue, guide you along a path that snakes around the room and up the walls, eventually leading to a door revealing your customized color. (Mine was steely blue, hence the Jake Gyllenhaal notecard freebie.)
Yet Young’s installation is remarkable not only for its writing, which is clever and unexpected, but also for its individualized nature: the flowchart operates as a kind of private puzzle designed for conceptual pleasure and self-reflection. In a museum that revolves around vanity (selfies) and public consumption (photo shares and likes), Young has elegantly slipped in a game of personality and independent psychology.
The mood doesn’t last for long. A disco dance floor blasting "Empire State of Mind" follows directly thereafter—which could be fun, as long as you ignore the fact that it’s a really just an ad for its sponsor, Maybelline.
“This illuminated dance floor, [sic] glows with rosy hues inspired by shades of Maybelline’s Super Stay Matte Ink lip color,” reads a wall plaque next to an array of lipsticks. Pair this with an earlier roomful of balloons stamped with little kids’ wishes (“Stop global warming. Tori, Age 8,” reads one), and you’ve got yourself a wonderful metaphor for millennial New York.
Sugary treats are provided throughout, including but not limited to: mochi, colored macarons, candy sushi (I nearly spit out something resembling a purple earplug), a raspberry slushy, and ice-blue gelato.
Morning wasn’t the greatest time for me to ingest my weight in tinted foodstuffs. The edible offerings evoke comparable installations that are descending on New York City, including the popular Museum of Ice Cream, Egg House, and imminent Museum of Pizza.
The Color Factory’s entry cost is $38, equal to the admission price for the Ice Cream Museum, which famously became a sold-out hit earlier this summer. The Color Factory also echoes this predecessor in its ties to social media: nowadays, Instagram isn’t only a key promotional tool, it’s become an essential component in an installation’s conception and design.
The official Color Factory Instagram account currently has 134,000 followers, and, several days before it has even opened, its New York location has been tagged in pages of posts—the profitable result of early bird invites to press and influencers. As one of Young’s flowchart questions asks, “Have you checked your phone since you entered this room?”
This is the grim online reality occurring in tandem with our current culture’s so-called experience economy. To modern consumers, documentation is as important as the event itself. And for many, nearly $40 is a small price to pay for 20 photos that will, hopefully, earn back their cost in social currency. Exit through the gift shop, though, and you may be tempted to shell out a bit more cash. (A custom polka dot backpack goes for $90.)
Still, the installation ends on a high note: a monstrously large—and disconcertingly deep—plastic ball pit, colored entirely sky blue. Ball pits are the deus ex machina of interactive art installations: when you’re spending the last act wading through 300 thousand balls, you can pretty much forgive any uninvolving bits. Who can resist a tasteful take on Chuck-E-Cheese?
There is one, uniquely millennial danger to such a space: “Be sure to hang onto your phones tightly. Volume on loud,” advised an attendant. “You won’t believe how many ones we’ve had lost already.”
The Color Factory is at 251 Spring Street, NYC. Details here.