New social-media focused museums offer little beyond the ‘gram


Pop-ups like the Museum of Ice Cream, Happy Place and 29 Rooms, in downtown L.A are taking over Instagram and garnering thousands of followers.

The Museum of Ice Cream, a traveling exhibit, which appeared in Los Angeles last year has more 350,000 followers on Instagram and sold out tickets at cities across the U.S. Tommy Honton, co-creator of the Museum of Selfies, described these pop-ups as “Instagram Palaces.”

“Pop-ups have social media ingrained in their DNA. That’s what I really like about immersive, interactive spaces – you have fun so you want to share them with people. It’s a very social thing,” Honton said.

Tiffany Garcia, an account manager and publicist, visited the Museum of Ice Cream with some of her friends in December and described the experience as more fun than educational.

“I was really excited to go to the Museum of Ice Cream…to have this artistic, funky museum solely based on ice cream was really exciting. I’d never seen anything like it before,” Garcia said. “It was a cool place to take good photos and Boomerangs.”

Garcia said she prefers museums that focus on pop culture and would like to visit the museum of ice cream again and in different cities.

Unlike traditional museums, these popups seem to offer little more than colorful backdrops for social media purposes.

“You have to ask, is what you’re creating pure? Are you just making cool stuff so that people will take pictures of it and pay you money? There is a commercial side to [pop-ups] but I’m OK with that as long as the product is good,” Honton said.

Piggybacking off the pop-up trend is The Museum of Selfies. This pop-up space, set to open in Glendale this April, promises a lighthearted look at selfies and selfie-culture.

“It’s more than just a museum of selfies – it’s a museum about selfies. It seems shallow but with that title we can show that selfies are not a brand new phenomena,” Honton said.

Honton explained that a selfie is any self-depiction made by yourself and added that some of the great painters, such as Rembrandt and Frida Kahlo, are renowned for their self-portraits. The museum will include a history of selfies dating back to the earliest self-depictions on prehistoric cave walls and ending with a few interactive experiences where visitors can take their own selfies.

“What we’re doing is a little tongue-and-cheek, but not in a bitter or sarcastic way. We’re very playful and self-aware,” Honton said.

But pop-ups aren’t the only art spaces making use of social media. More established museums and galleries are using Instagram, SnapChat and Facebook to connect with viewers.

“Social media raises more awareness about the museum and art,” said Selina Camli, Marketing Director USC Fisher Museum of Art. “When I first started we only had 160 followers on Instagram, [2 years later] we have over 1,700.”

Camli explained that the USC Fisher encourages visitors to take photos inside the museum and use hashtags on signs posted by the door. She feels this kind of organic sharing is how many people discover art and learn about events in their community.

“We try hard to reach the community and to show people highlights for exhibitions, behind-the-scenes photos from artists-in-residence and to promote our events,” said Camli.

She added that LACMA has a great SnapChat where they use hashtags and emojis to make art fun and accessible. Camli explained that both the Fisher and LACMA are part of the SoCal Museums Group, which hosts social media holidays and encourages museums to interact with each other online.

“Art museums are trying to stay relevant but there’s still an ivory-tower approach,” said Honton. ”People don’t feel like they can engage with the art or have opinions about it.”

He added that everything from the didactic wall tags to the strict no photography policies can make people unfamiliar with the art world feel uncomfortable.

“People like bright, happy and playful spaces that encourage a return to innocence and encourage people to play,” Honton said.

He explained that public art, such as the “Urban Lights” sculpture in front of LACMA and the “Yellow Spaghetti” installation formerly in the patio offer great opportunities for social media because people can interact with them from many angles.

“The Broad and LACMA are doing a great job of balancing traditional art and ‘hype machines’ like, the Rain Room or the Infinity Rooms,” Honton said. “By curating spaces like these, the hope is that art museums will be welcoming to everyone.”



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