A museum dedicated to ice cream seems like a no brainer. Who wouldn’t love spending time in a space that celebrates everyone’s favorite cold treat.
So it’s no wonder that the Museum of Ice Cream, which started as a pop-up in New York, would be a runaway success. After its initial sold-out run in Manhattan last fall, it went on to another successful run in Los Angeles. Last month it made its debut in San Francisco.
When I arrived for my highly anticipated ticketed time slot last Saturday with my friend Jeanne, I felt like I was entering an exclusive club as curious people walking by kept asking about admission tickets and the bouncer out front kept telling them it was sold out (yet again; San Francisco’s cost is the highest at $38 compared to what was charged in New York and Los Angeles).
As I waited in the entry way of the former Emporio Armani shop in the Union Square area, a museum host clad in pink tried to pump up the crowd, encouraging us (we were with a bunch of strangers) to give our team a name and declaring a team leader. Under pressure, one of us suggested calling the group “Sprinkles Forever.” Not original, but what do you expect for a last-minute suggestion under pressure.
This forced camaderie and cheering nature of museum hosts played through as you walk through the exhibit, again primarily cloaked in pink. In each spot you stopped at, a host greeted you with either a “fun quiz” or games like ring toss over whipped cream cans.
In an odd way, I felt like a monkey being forced to perform on command (play a game, monkey; answer this quiz, monkey) or a dog given treats for performing a trick (we had to play guessing games to get our treat of mochi ice cream or a packet of pop rocks).
For a museum about ice cream, I didn’t really see much ice cream except for the free sundae passed out at the mini diner counter with a jukebox playing pop songs from Taylor Swift. I didn’t expect non-stop ice cream, but I was hoping for some ice cream art. Surely someone has painted a sundae or sculpted a cone into some pop costume.
Other than the first section where you got a history of ice cream, I would have loved to see more educational sections like maybe how ice cream is different from country to country or what is the damn difference between ice cream and gelato?
Instead, the museum is a collection of one photo op to another, for people to snap selfies or Snapchat some videos of them in the gummy bear garden or cotton candy cloud rooms. The highlight is the “sprinkles pool” where adults jump into a hot tub filled with plastic multi-colored sprinkles.
This really should have been the Museum of Social Media, because it really is a live social experiment of how we experience art today, where it’s no longer the viewing of exhibits but the interaction and how we as museum goers can make ourselves part of the exhibit.
I guess I would have been okay with a museum dedicated to social media if it was more transparent about it and they didn’t dictate how my social media posts should be framed. Maybe I don’t want to scream for ice cream at every turn, and maybe my enjoyment doesn’t have to be displayed for you in order for you to decide that I can move forward in your museum.
And for a museum about social media, they play on the biggest part of today’s psyche of American culture where FOMO requires us to participate in something or risk being called a social loser. The museum counted on its sold-out, pop-up, word-of-mouth that drove online tickets to sellout on its first day in 45 minutes. (There are always plans to extend the run so you’ll just have to check its website for new dates.)
I realize that I bear some blame in this misguided social experiment by volunteeringly disposing of my $76 for two tickets just because I did’t want to miss out. Yeah, I knew the museum leaned heavily on the social media aspect from early reviews, but I thought and maybe hoped that there would be more to make it a substantial experience.
But instead it was too much of the puff, leaving me feeling like I was aching for more. It’s like they wanted me to remember what it was like as a child when I didn’t know better and I overindulged in ice cream, leaving me feeling sick and my Mom telling me she knew better and she warned me not to have too much of a good thing.
So let me be your Mom to tell you that the Museum of Ice Cream just gives you a bite but doesn’t leave you satisfied. Instead of going for the pop, save your money for something more special elsewhere.
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