I was so ready to start this review with: “I can’t believe people paid money for this and there are already plenty of sold-out time slots.”
I approached Color Factory —an interactive color-centric exhibition that debuted in San Francisco last summer and got a revamp for its New York iteration—armed with a strong dose of prejudice: My reaction to recent immersive, installation-based experiences such as the Dream Machine and Egg House can be summed up with the word “eh.” But at the end of my walkthrough of The Color Factory, I was as giddy as when I finally made it through Alice’s Curious Labyrinth at EuroDisney in the ’90s.
These 16 rooms actually reward both your senses and your mind, courtesy of the 21 leading artists and “makers” who reflected on the theme of “colors.” Williamsburg-based designer/writer/renaissance woman Molly Young conceptualized and designed a complex and witty flowchart that, eventually, leads you to a room painted in “your secret color.” Questions include “What color do you take your coffee?”, which leads to three options (plus one) and “You’re in a rainforest, what animal are you most excited to see?” (I went for “a beautiful toucan.”)
Once you exit the monochromatic room, you pick a card from a matching wall. The reverse side contains instructions such as “steeple your fingers and narrow your eyes…to the beat.” This will come in handy in the adjoining dancefloor-themed installation, where, if you’re tired, you can slurp a slushie made of strawberries and gummy worms. Highly addictive.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you have a bare-bones white room adorned with “an alternative alphabet of unusual colors” shaped like vertical drawers. Kassia St Clair, who wrote The Secret Lives of Color, singled out 26 colors with interesting backstories and definitions. H is for Heliotrope, “a shrub with cherry-pie scented purple blooms,” B is for Baker-Miller Pink, “believed in late ’70s and early ’80s to be an antidote to violence and aggressions.”
It also goes beyond strictly visual art: Artist Lakwena and musician Abimaro created a sound-and-visual installation that explores the relationship between the first and fifth note in a scale, also known as “the perfect fifth.” Xylophone-like instruments and mallets are all around the room. And you won’t be able to resist hammering and hammering on the xylophone like a frenzied five-year-old.
Even the installations typically found in other “Instagram”-forward museums are somehow superior. At other interactive museums, the obligatory ball pit is usually the size of a kiddie pool, crammed between two adjoining attractions. Well, at The Color Factory, it’s installed in a baby-blue palatial room that has the gravitas of a late-’80s European sanatorium.
Overall, the experience feels like being part of an esoteric ritual, something you feel like you’re a part of but can’t completely rationalize. “Color is a mystery. It doesn’t really exist. It’s like a sound or a smell, something the brain creates in response to wafting waves and particles,” Molly Young told B+B. “Despite the metaphysical qualities of color, we still have vivid emotional responses to it.”
St Clair echoes Young’s thesis. “Our experience of color is also mediated through our perception, which is influenced by a whole range of factors, including our personal memories, our culture and so on,” she told us. “So while a red might mean one thing to one person, another person looking at an identical swatch might experience it differently.”
If you’re into the selfie or Insta thing, there are plenty of options thanks to a handy QR-code-powered badge that allows you to —mercifully—have your hands-free picture taken at designated stations. Personally, I hate having my picture taken and I’ve barely been taking selfies since someone told me that the act of it made them think I was stupid, but I think the QR-code option is genius: you can forget about your smartphone for a whole hour without experiencing Instagram FOMO.
I am all for calling The Color Factory “a museum”: I reemerged mentally restored and a tad more educated.
The Color Factory opens on August 20. Tickets are $38 and you can get them here