Vivid swirls of color swathed the five arched doorways of the Palace of Fine Arts, where inspirational mantras—"Be the spark. Live with heart. Turn it into art."—announced our arrival to the media preview for Refinery29's much anticipated "immersive funhouse," 29Rooms, which opens today.
If you've seen any of the promo on Instagram, you already know this is a happy trap for selfie-snapping Instagrammers in the vein of Color Factory and the Museum of Ice Cream, awaiting with omg installations of psychedelic rainbows, disco mirrors, trippy neon, celebrity collaborations, and more. But it's not all fluff: 29Rooms is stuffed with social commentary.
In our experience at both the media preview and the VIP party, most people spent a good chunk of their time in the two rooms by artist Alexa Meade, titled "Become the Masterpiece." Meade, who usually paints human bodies (this is her first exhibit showcasing her work with inanimate subjects), has created a pair of psychedelic backdrops; a slew of hand-painted jackets, hats, glasses, and accessories invite you to dress up and then pose against the works for truly epic photos in which we can all become part of the paintings.
Room 3: "Art Heals" in collaboration with the Art of Elysium. Tom Franco, Elysium partner, guided visitors through the tunnel of lanterns with brushes to paint away their worries.
But immersive experiences abound, and if you're to see all of 29Rooms, you'll need commitment and focus—you've got three hours to get through this thing, and you'll need every minute. Enter the dark, moody "Dreamer's Den" and plop down in a plush velvet chair to hear The Voice singer Darby Walker belt interpretative renditions of your dreams—which you write down on a piece of paper—in beautiful bluesy notes. In "Cosmoramarama," you'll step into another dimension thanks to Oculus headsets; put one on and walk through a pastel-toned, floral VR paradise developed by L.A.-based artist Wesley Allsbrook. For something a little more chill, pop your head into the giant uterus that is "The Womb"—a red, tent-like bean bag—and listen to a meditative poem written and recited by Cleo Wade.
Those looking for something saucier (though, we're not really sure what's saucier than hanging around in a big inflatable vagina), "Tell Us Your Secret," based on the upcoming film A Simple Favor—directed by Paul Feig and starring Anna Kendrick—betrays the many secrets of others. You can write a secret of your own to slip into the wall, and read notes that others have left behind. There's some juicy stuff in there ("I got my coworker fired"). Another fun photo op is "Love Is Love," where you can channel your inner Mariah Carey beneath a neon rainbow—this particular exhibition is intended to celebrate LGBTQIA pride and culture.
Which brings us to that social commentary portion of the experience. Gender issues are also brought to forefront in 29Rooms. Take a seat on a toilet in "Gender Neutral," a recreation of a high school bathroom scrawled with messages celebrating the spectrum of genders. Within each stall, you can listen to recorded first-person narrative stories about peoples' earliest experiences with gender identity. Another room, "Hear Our Voice," created in collaboration with the Women's March team, is papered with activist posters and offers postcards and a directory of Congress so that visitors can write to their representatives; 29Rooms will pop them in the mail. (Six-thousand cards have been sent from the Los Angeles exhibit alone; we'd be willing to bet that outspoken San Franciscans can beat that.) In Janelle Monáe's "What's Your Frequency," mannequins stand with screens for heads and chains on their feet, surrounded by bulbous mirrors and security cameras. This piece reflects on the weaponization of technology, mass surveillance, and cultural uniformity; Monae has created an army where you are watched, recorded, and transmitted as you walk through.
29Rooms takes some dedication to tackle, but the vibrant wonderland is thoughtfully crafted, with each installation prompting curiosity and empowering liberation—it's all about the transformative power of creativity and how art influences emotion. To be honest, it left us reeling (though that could also be because Jessica Alba complimented our lipstick in the bathroom.
// June 21-24 at Palace of Fine Arts (Presidio); tickets ($39 per 3-hour session) are available at 29rooms.com.