After an unequivocally successful run in San Francisco, the vivid pop-up, The Color Factory, has arrived in New York City. The endlessly Instagrammable experience opens on August 20, but I visited during a press preview—and despite my cynicism about these selfie-bait experiences, I found myself having a good time.
This time around, the folks behind the Color Factory approached the installation with a very specific theme in mind: how our experiences as New Yorkers are shaped by color. And while there are some parts that are destined to appear in more than a few Instagram posts (yes, there is a ball pit; yes, I took a selfie in it), there are also plenty that are thought-provoking, or have a fun element of New Yorkiness to them.
The Color Factory partnered with artists, writers, and cultural institutions, including Roz Chast, LAND Brooklyn, Tamara Shopsin, and 826NYC, to dream up participatory experiences throughout the 20,000-square-foot installation. The best of these make New York integral to the experience. The first thing you see upon entering is a poem by Queens writer Won McIntosh, who uses colors of the city—the green of ubiquitous sidewalk sheds, or the bright orange assigned to the F train—as inspiration.
In another, artist Andrew Kuo took different observations about life in New York, assigned each one a color, and turned those into pie charts; it makes more sense when you see it in person, but the notes themselves—“Always know where a semi-respectable bathroom is at any time,” for example—are funny, and eminently relatable.
Each piece, of course, is highly engineered for optimal social-media sharing: Kuo’s pie charts, for example, are rendered onto large spinning platforms, with cameras situated above to help you capture the perfect hands-free photo. It’s then emailed to you, ready for your Instagram account.
You’re also plied with photogenic food and trinkets throughout, which (partially) explains the $38 price of admission; there are macarons on a conveyer belt, Swedish candy behind another door, and gelato at the end of it all.
Your parting gift is a map of lower Manhattan, which pairs a particular hue with a neighborhood landmark or institution (Ear Inn, Economy Candy, Freeman Alley, and Housing Works Bookstore are among the spots included), and invites visitors to find more artwork at each specific place. (These maps will also be available free of charge, even if you don’t partake in the experience.) A gift shop stocked with rainbow-patterned books, prints, and decorative geegaws notes that some of the proceeds go to a number of charities, including RAICES and God’s Love We Deliver.
There’s still the feeling, as Curbed’s architecture critic Alexandra Lange put it in her review of The Museum of Ice Cream, that the whole thing is engineered to “moving the visitor along on a conveyor belt of experience.” But it’s also clear that the Color Factory’s creators put more effort into making those experiences a bit more meaningful—you might actually walk away considering how the city’s various hues affect your mood, in addition to getting that perfect Instagram post.