If you're happy but no one on social media knows it, are you really happy? Like, if you're happy but no one on Instagram can see you physically twirling around like a maniac inside a room full of confetti or rapturously cramming a rainbow-colored grilled cheese sandwich into your maw — is anyone going to buy for a motherfucking second that you're living your best life and that you're truly #blessed?
A building in the Arts District has already been painted a garishly gleeful shade of yellow in preparation for the Nov. 20 opening of a pop-up experience called Happy Place. According to a media release, the 20,000-square-foot space will be “filled with smiles, laughs, one-of-a-kind installations, multisensory immersive rooms, and a whole lot of SELFIE moments that you don’t want to miss!”
Besides the confetti room and the rainbow grilled cheeses — “to make sure your stomach is also smiling!” (yikes) — Happy Place will incorporate a massive high-heeled shoe made out of a million candies, a giant birthday cake, a backyard with a lemonade stand and lawn games, and a sculptural installation called Paradise Room by artist Steve Harrington. As of late last week, Harrington was the only participating artist the PR folks could name besides creative director Butch Allen, who has executed lighting design for huge bands like No Doubt and Paramore.
If there were any question what the pop-up's primary purpose is, the release adds: “Capturing amazing pictures for your social media followers and sharing the happiness is highly encouraged.”
Because social media is a ravenous beast that feeds on selfies the way Audrey II fed on human blood in Little Shop of Horrors and because millennials have turned overt happiness into cultural capital using those platforms, Happy Place is the latest in a series of “experiences” specifically crafted for Instagrammability. These have run the gamut from actual art exhibits like 14th Factory to overt brand promotions like 29 Rooms to balls-to-the-wall sensory overloads like the Museum of Ice Cream, which had a draw too powerful for even Beyoncé to resist.
Last week, the L.A. Times published a tepid-bordering-on-unfavorable review of the Broad's actual art exhibit, “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors.” For all the excitement surrounding the show — which features six of the Japanese octogenarian's mirrored rooms, as well as abstract paintings, sculptures and groovy black-and-white photos of her public interventions — it left critic Christopher Knight feeling empty, a flashy meal with little nourishment. His distaste seemed to be enhanced by the work's intrinsic Instagrammability, inadvertent though it may be. (Kusama created her first infinity mirrored room, Phalli's Field, roughly 40 years before the advent of the smartphone.)
Knight wrote, “Selfies taken inside the mirrored rooms are all over Instagram and other social media. The most interesting feature of the rooms is that looking at the ubiquitous photos of them is as fulfilling as actually being there — which may be a first for art. (It may also relieve those unable to snare tickets to the show.) Small surprise: Kusama turns out to be an unwitting pioneer of art fabricated to be photographed.”
Art fabricated to be photographed certainly can be dull. How can you truly enjoy art when you're focused on creating the perfect image of it? But to the credit of the people behind Happy Place, it's not being represented as an art exhibit or, say, a “museum” of happiness. In fact it practically revels in its own lack of depth — don't think, just smile for the camera and have another grilled cheese.
Happy Place, 1242 Palmetto St., downtown; Nov. 20-Jan. 7; $28.50. happyplace.me.