First we clamored for tickets to the Color Factory, where we danced beneath the disco balls and frolicked in rainbow ribbons. Then we lined up at the Museum of Ice Cream, where we all screamed for the sprinkle pool and got frisky with jumbo gummy bears. Next, we donned exquisite balloon hats to navigate Exploratorium's Inflatable, and later we dressed up in trippy garb for even more psychedelic snaps at the pop-up 29Rooms—you get the (very pretty) picture.
When it comes to fantastical, polychromatic, "Instagram-worthy" OMG art exhibits, you might say we've reached a saturation point. But then along comes an all-new, super saccharine, shiny-arty photo op—also with a celebrity following—to tug at our iPhones with the childish refrain: Oh please, can we have another? Enter Candytopia, opening soon in San Francisco, where "colossal candyfloss constructions meld with a tantalizing taffy twistedness."
Fresh off its run in Los Angeles—where such glitterati as Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow, and James Corden gushed over its gooey greatness—Candytopia is bringing its Willy Wonka vibes and marshmallow swimming pool to the space next door to the Four Seasons Hotel on Market Street on September 6th.
The sweet spot comes to us compliments of Jackie Sorkin, the celebrity candy artist (yes, that's a thing!) and CEO of Hollywood Candy Girls known for the magical dessert bars she brings to the parties of stars including Oprah, Rihanna, and Kylie Jenner (you may have also seen her on TLC's Candy Queen). Sorkin has teamed up with SF resident and retail vet John Goodman, whose bag as operating partner of Marvin Traub Associates' celebrity division is pulling off celeb collaborations such as the Kardashian Kollection at Sears. Cue the paparazzi.
And to be sure, this IRL Candyland brims with enough eye-popping and tastebud-tickling delights that even the most jaded of interactive exhibit-goers may not be able to resist a few captures to flaunt on their feeds. After all, when was the last time you saw the Mona Lisa rendered in hard candy or Prince composed of gumballs and licorice? The requisite unicorn is here too, with rainbow sour tape hair flowing in the wind.
Though many of the installations are made from real candy, you'll need to keep your tongues to yourself—there's none of Wonka's lickable wallpaper here. But don't fret, you'll of course be able to gobble up treats all along the way, from sours to chocolates, while taking in the most popular exhibits brought in from Santa Monica, as well as new elements unique to SF.
We're not gonna lie: We're both skeptical and also a little excited—who doesn't like an IG op to prove that you're living your best life? But it does force the question of what can be considered art, and what is art's purpose—and where do things like branding (witness the list of sponsors that partook in 29Rooms) and merchandise and social media gimmicks all designed to make money fit in? (The Museum of Ice Cream has roped in $20 million since it opened in New York in 2016.) And that's to say nothing of the merch: Candytopia brings with it a gift shop stocked with beer-flavored Jelly Bellys, "Unicorn Poop," and birthday cake–flavored chewing gum in addition to sweet-themed wares. It's pretty easy to slap a label on all of this and say it isn't art.
But some prominent art curators disagree, saying that this new flavor of immersive, happy-making art isn't just pushing artists to expand their boundaries, but it's also therapeutic for us—not to mention a way of broaching difficult subjects in ways that are digestible to all (29Rooms tackled topics ranging from gender to the weaponization of technology with help from the Women's March team and Janelle Monae).
"We don't have many opportunities to gather with one another outside of what is scheduled for us—people are hungry to have collective experiences that are not as dictated," says Carin Adams, exhibition curator at Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), where recent programming has intentionally become more playful than what is typical of venerated art institutions. Last year, OMCA presented a brightly lit, inflatable installation reminiscent of a bounce house by L.A.-based fine art duo Friends With You ("It became about contemplation and healing, and creating an uplifting gallery space for people"); more recently, the museum made the connection between art and music with DJ appearances at the much-buzzed about hip-hop retrospective Respect. According to Friends With You, their work is about "healing adults from their isolation, offering communal experiences in art, and teaching the next generations that our world is alive through mass-media communication."
Allison Wyckoff, associate director of public and community programs at the Asian Art Museum, agrees: "Museums cannot remain storehouses of objects, they have to be experiential places of learning and inquiry. They would become obsolete if they didn't provide opportunities like this to have direct experiences with the artists." She points to the Asian's recent Flower Interruption installation: "To walk onto a grimy neglected street corner and see hundreds of colorful flowers brings so much joy," she says.
Whether swimming in sprinkles and marshmallows is a way of finding bliss on an average day or just another chance to get an epic snap for Insta and hella likes is up to us. Perhaps when Candytopia opens, we could all keep our phones in our pockets and try actually living in the moment. Yeah, as if.
// Candytopia opens Sept. 6 at 767 Market St. (SoMa); tickets ($34/adults, $26/ages 4-12) go on sale Aug.1; sign up for updates at candytopia.com.