by Dayna Evans
In the car, driving back to New York after a never-ending Thanksgiving holiday, we talked about going to see the Picasso exhibit. “The MoMA is expensive, and I bet it’ll be crowded,” I said. “Want to go to the Museum of Feelings instead? It’s free.”
My friend Cat agreed. “Yeah, let’s do that.” At my feet I had stashed a plastic grocery bag with a boxed panettone, brand name unknown. I pulled it into my lap like a cat to be cradled and tore shreds of the currant bread from its body, as is the November-to-January holiday tradition. I passed one of every four shreds to Cat. This feeling I would describe as presently nostalgic; I would also call it hungry.
We got back to New York in record time, considering the anticipated traffic jam through Staten “Who Gives a Fuck” Island. On the last leg of the trip, I read through several online forums about what would happen to me while I tapered off my meds, which I was doing in response to a friend’s claim that this specific drug obliterated short-term memory. I sent a screengrab of one forum page to my boyfriend, where my future suppressed libido was described. I’d call this feeling playful. By the time I opened my front door, I was satisfied and happy. Two good feelings that never last very long.
After preparing for the cold, sunny winter weather in my apartment, Cat and I embarked on the train ride to the West Side of Manhattan. We hadn’t exactly established what it was we were going to see, and I checked the Facebook event for the address one more time. At that point on Sunday, there were over thirty thousand people who had selected “going” to the Museum of Feelings, and over sixty thousand who had promised they were “interested,” a new choice Facebook had added to take the sting out of a guest list of aloof “maybes.” There were hundreds of comments on the page’s wall, mostly people mentioning their friends with “we should go!” or “After work one night?” I don’t know why, but even then, the luminescent pop-up structure with the digital architectural rendering drew me in. Feelings experienced en masse are a rare phenomenon in New York — though “feels” are now a little more commonplace — and when I’d done some cursory sleuthing, I’d found a few Instagram photos of a pink-purple room a la James Turrell, or for students of the present-future, “Hotline Bling.” If art is supposed to make us feel something, but we have to put trust in Picasso that his sculptures will be evocative enough, why not just cut out the middle man?
At Fulton Street, Cat pointed to Santiago Calatrava’s extravagant venus flytrap transportation hub and then to One World Trade Center; she said that the former Freedom Tower was unremarkable in comparison. We talked about Robert Durst while crossing the West Side Highway to Brookfield Place, the luxe mall where the Museum of Feelings was “popped up,” and looking out over the waterfront, we could see a line of people looping next to the all-white structure.
“Wanna get some food while we wait?” I asked. I drank my third coffee of the day (the tapering allegedly causes fatigue) and we joined the line.
“This better be worth it,” she said. I was feeling optimistic.
There are five “exhibits” in the Museum of Feelings: a room where you refract colorful light from a glittery piece of cardboard; a “Christmas-scented” room where rubber green strings hang from a ceiling (inspiration taken from Jesús Rafael Soto’s work); a disco lounge where the floor is a vibrating animated acid trip; a hall of mirrors with kaleidoscopic images controlled by users swiping a touchscreen; and the Turrell color therapy room where a machine emits a cloud of scented fog for participants to stand in and nearly choke to death. The last one is the most Instagrammable, and while fla上海千花坊 缘分阁sh photography is not allowed, “social sharing” is greatly encouraged. Before entering each exhibit, “docents” wearing knockoff Chromat structured bodices and pristine Doc Martens invite you to access one of the five senses, and you’re given two cardboard handouts — glitter paper and the 3D glasses.
The Christmas-scented room gagged us with the smell of pine cones, cinnamon, and juniper, and a docent encouraged us to think about the feeling of being young during the holiday season. This was not what being young during the holidays smelled like. “Wait a minute,” Cat said as I grabbed bundles of light-up green rubber into my arms, “What is this?”
“I don’t know, man,” I replied, trying to actually access my childhood feelings of snowy Christmas and furry pajamas, thinking about ham lined with pineapples.
“It’s weird,” Cat said. She frowned at me and moved on.
It takes about fifteen minutes to go from one end of the museum to the other — less time if you’re feeling impatient, more time if you’re feeling trustworthy and child-like. In the kaleidoscope room, Cat captured me in a photograph looking gleeful and idiotic as I swiped around on the touchscreen, making the space around me feel both larger and smaller, larger and smaller.
“I wish I had a room like this in my house,” I told her. She laughed at my excitement, shaking her head incredulously. “I’m serious! This is a cool idea!” We’d waited in line for an hour and fifteen minutes to get into the museum, forced to listen to two drama students from the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts sing through an entire catalog of pop songs from the famed 2010–2015 canon: “Never Say Never” by Justin Bieber, that very successful Shawn Mendes song, and Katy Perry. I needed to release some pent-up energy, but of course I was overcompensating: The small payoff for the long wait had me feeling guilty for having chosen this alleged art over something more “real.” But disappointment isn’t half the feeling that humiliation is.
While waiting in line for the Turrell-inspired room, Cat pointed to a bottle of air freshener laying on the ground. “You see that?” she whispered to me, an eyebrow raised. “Glade air freshener.” I looked to where her finger was pointing, slowly putting the pieces together. Each room did have an overwhelmingly strong smell; and the incitement to share the experience on social media was a little too emphatic.
“This whole place is supposed to get us to buy Glade,” she said, shaking her head again. While we waited, a docent pushed open and closed a curtain. We dutifully stood by, beginning to feel hoodwinked and shallow and stupid. We had waited for such a long time, so it felt stupid to leave now. Wouldn’t we like to see how S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. interpreted the artwork of James Turrell?
Cat started laughing. “You can hear her spraying from an aerosol can in there,” she said. “Sprsss. Sprsss.” We were invited in a moment later. The color pink in the room was distractingly bright, but it managed to calm me down. As soon as the room began to fill with scented fog, which we now knew to be a Glade® experience, we pushed out toward the exit where a “museum store” awaited us. There, attendees could purchase Museum of Feelings candles and share selfies taken on huge, clean-white television screens.
Cat threw her 3D glasses in the trash. I debated keeping mine, at least for a second.
When Drake released his wow-so-memeable-isn’t-he-a-genius video for “Hotline Bling,” James Turrell was of course forced to acknowledge his influence on the video’s set design. “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f*cks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the ‘Hotline Bling’ video,” Turrell wrote in a statement released by his lawyer. The Canadian rapper’s love affair with Turell had been tracked over time and there was no escaping where the video’s influence came from. Game recognize game, I suppose.
That the Museum of Feelings pop-up launched only a week before the opening of this year’s Art Basel Miami is very funny to me. In my “social feed,” I’ve seen previews of what Art Basel will offer this year, I’ve gotten invitations to parties and openings based on gallery listservs I didn’t know I was subscribed to, I recognize some artist’s names because those are the names that are talked about. I wonder about the cycle of being a respected artist because you’re talked about and talked about because you’re a respected artist, and who deigns a crossing of this threshold. Why hasn’t Banksy retired yet? Why do we need another exhaustive evaluation of Monet’s water lilies?
From the tiny screens of my computer and phone, art looks mostly dull, flat, and familiar, especially when it arrives via jpeg or tinyletter or Tumblr scroll. Only a few weeks before I first heard about the Museum of Feelings, I had ordered a new Rizzoli art book called Feelings: Soft Art, a collection of works by contemporary artists that explore the evocative emotions drawn out by visual art. In many ways, this book is drastically different from what the Museum of Feelings attempts to accomplish — which is, make millennials think Glade airspray is trendy and aware and worthy of use — but in some ways, it is not. When Cat and I tried to figure out how it was we even came to learn about the pop-up museum, we both realized that a lot of our more “arty” friends had said they were attending the Facebook event. It spread virally. We trusted those people’s tastes, so we decided to go. We never really thought to check if it was worthy of praise, or even exactly what it was.
This is the same principle by which the casual museum attendee learns to namedrop Cézanne and Miró. MoMA is just as much sponsored content as the Museum of Feelings — they’re just sponsored by different power structures.
On the way home, we were both feeling dejected. I turned to Cat, who was walking slowly behind me, and asked if she wanted to hear a fucked up story. She said yes, so I spun a lengthy yarn about a how few weeks ago I came back to my neighborhood to learn that a woman had jumped in front of the train at my subway stop. There were many graphic details — all true — and I told the story with animated hands and in several parts. I was sharing something with a friend, like shorn scraps from the body of a panettone loaf. I wanted her to feel what I had felt.
“What the hell,” Cat said when I had finished explaining what had happened and was waiting for her response. “I thought you said you were going to tell me a funny story.”
“Oh,” I responded. “No, I said fucked up.” Don’t you feel it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference?