Happy Place, a colorful pop-up that launched in the downtown Arts District, was a huge hit last year, selling out all of its available dates, rivaling the similarly vibrant Museum of Ice Cream and even the hot-ticket actual art exhibit “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” at the Broad. But that doesn’t mean the Happy Place put a smile on everyone’s face. A lot of people, particularly in the media, just didn’t get it. Like, what was, what is, the point? The answer, of course, was (is) social media. Colorful scenery, art murals, flower gardens, even cool wallpaper no longer exist simply for the purpose of pleasing our peepers in real life. Now they are seen, for better or worse, as backdrops for perfectly filtered and positioned puckers and poses on social media.
The “pop-up” trend started as a marketing promo thing, driven by thematic tie-ins and novelty-driven commerce, but it has become more and more about online exposure, created with Instagram selfies, Twitter pics, Snapchat clips and Facebook Live videos in mind. Online social accounts, especially those of famous people and “influencers,” equal free advertising. the all-important hashtag has real value; basically, # = $$$.
Journalists and media people are prone to view this trendy tide as vapid and empty eye candy, a shift that threatens what we do, replacing thoughts and ideas with shiny, pretty things, thereby perpetuating shorter attention spans and a general lack of substance. But we also understand that to stay in the game, we must embrace the power of visually stimulating content. Interesting or even just cute pics (of ourselves and/or others) are a necessary evil to some in media these days and a fun, creative art form for others. I see both sides, but I still marvel at how many more “likes” selfies get than anything else I post on all my social accounts. I asked friends from all walks of life if they experience the same, and the answer was a resounding yes.
There are plenty of selfie opps at the new Happy Place. Returning installations include yellow bathtubs backdropped by a wall of rubber duckies; giant high-heeled shoes you can pose inside; a weird cartoony palm tree room; a kisses room with smooch-covered walls, lip couch and giant “XO” structure (my fave!); and expanded versions of the “rainbow room,” featuring a giant pot of gold you can actually jump into (it’s one of those ball pits but with plastic coins inside), and the “super bloom” room, which allows both subject and photog to pop their heads through a flowery field for photos. Other rooms include a Mylar-encased music room in which you push a button to activate dance hits and disco lights, and an upside-down bedroom (you snap a pic in front of a bed and furniture attached to the ceiling and flip it upside down to appear suspended from the ceiling).
Confetti areas remain popular — you can lay down and make “confetti angels” or enter a vent-filled room with confetti flying all around you. A Happy worker pushes a button while you're in the chamber. And by the way, employees are everywhere within the walk-thru, to make sure you don't damage the installations and to snap pics of anyone who wants them. Sadly, my golden bloom pics came out blurry, which makes me think the staff might need a lot more training.
After seeing a photo I posted from Happy Place yesterday on IG (technically not a selfie as I didn’t take it myself), a lot of people asked where I was and if the experience was worth the cost of tickets. There are some free treats, including M&M’s, rainbow popcorn and cake pops, but the famous rainbow grilled cheese and an insane “unicorn” sundae cost extra.
I attended a free press preview, so I had to really think about the value. Certain references (rave culture, ’70s TV like Sid & Marty Krofft, Warholian pop art and colorful fashion designers like Betsey Johnson) inform my visual perspective, which means that for me, Happy Place was cool but not wow-worthy, having more hash(tag) value than cash value. Still, looking at the pics a day later, I'm wavering about it. I do look pretty happy! And I think it's a fun family attraction; cheaper than Disneyland, at least. With family, friends or alone, the pictures kinda sell it afterward, and the creators obviously planned it that way.
Happy Place, 1005 Chick Hearn Court, L.A. Live Event Deck, downtown. Runs April 26- May 27. Tickets $35 plus fees for Friday-Sunday; $28.50 plus fees for Monday-Thursday; kids 4 and under free. More info at HappyPlace.me or AXS.com.