LOS ANGELES — Alongside the explosion of more traditional museums and institutions in Los Angeles over the past few years — including the Broad, Marciano, the Main Museum, and ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) — the city has seen the opening of several “museum-like” pop-up experiences. These have aimed to shake up the staid art world with a mix of high-end production design, marketing savvy, and social media appeal. From the Museum of Ice Cream to 29 Rooms and the Happy Place, these “selfie factories” offer visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in “interactive” exhibits like a pool of sprinkles, or the “world’s largest indoor confetti dome,” encouraging them to liberally snap and share images of themselves online with appropriately branded hashtags.
The latest entry into the field is MOCAR, or the Museum of Cardboard and Rocks. Located in an Arts District warehouse, this “3,500 square-foot interactive exhibition” invites visitors to “lose yourself in a mountain of boxes, sink into a giant stone pit, marvel at works of cardboard mastery.” If this sounds too good — or bizarre — to be true, that’s because it is. MOCAR is the brainchild of Andy Bauch, an artist with an engineering background whose work often addresses the way contemporary technologies are disrupting previous systems, from communications and media to labor and economics. (His recent three-day solo show at Castelli Art Space in Culver City, New Money, featured lego brick sculptures that had embedded bitcoin keys totaling $10,000 that were all solved by the end of the show.)
According to Bauch, he created the satirical website for MOCAR a few months ago “in an hour and a half.” He wanted to see “how far you can take this sort of concept, of these Instagram experiences and selfie spaces, and have people still want to check it out.” He says that he is most interested in the feedback loop between digital and physical experiences. “I’m more interested in what people post about it, if the online image gets people to physically go there and what trickles back online.”
MOCAR’s website is pretty bare bones, but still has just enough information to make it seem possibly legit, including an actual address of an abandoned warehouse, parking info, and ticket prices ($38 for adults, children under three are free). This is not the first time Bauch has created an online presence to fool people into believing something exists in real life. A few years ago, he created a website for a fictional Olive Garden restaurant which was ostensibly moving into the old Coca-Cola building in the Arts District. Until he received a cease and desist from Olive Garden HQ, that is.
Bauch is quick to point out that he’s not trying to attack these new spaces, but explore what makes them so popular. “I’m wondering how much do these things have to approach art for them to be considered art?” he asked. “Does it make a difference if fine artists are involved? If the art is there because people want to take pics in front of it, does that become art in a way? Is the Instagram feed the exhibition? I don’t have a disdain for them.”
Traditional institutions are not immune from this phenomenon either, as anyone with an Instagram account can tell from the flood of selfies taken at Yayoi Kusama’s recent Infinity Rooms exhibition at the Broad. Bauch sees this all as part of the same trend, a kind of crowd-sourced viral PR engineered to give us all a major case of FOMO.
“How easily can people be manipulated or led because other people go to it?” he asks. “The way these places promote themselves, the marketing is getting crazier. What Russia was doing during the election, it’s not that different from the most effective ways of social marketing.”