The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is known for its famous works of art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Every day when the museum opens, crowds form around these paintings. Museum visitors hold up their iPhones above the heads of the crowds to take snapshots, and then move along to the next work. Sometimes a dedicated art lover will stand in the crowd until they reach the front.
If you would wait twenty minutes to see a Picasso, would you wait five hours to see the latest Random International? Some will wait that length and more. The line for Rain Room—the MoMA’s newest experiential installation—has surpassed nine hours on recent weekends. To accommodate as many viewers as possible (it’s already attracted over 65,000 viewers), the museum introduced an express line for those content to just see the rain, rather than stand in it.
Random International. Rain Room. 2012. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Rain Room is a large room with high ceilings and black walls. A platform of digitally programmed sprinklers hangs from the ceiling, and a plethora of motion sensors and cameras to ensure that viewers do not get wet—where there is a person standing, the rain stops. Viewers, as they entered, were hesitant at first, but quickly fell in with the playful spirit of the exhibit. As soon as they realized that if they didn’t make any sudden movements, they wouldn’t get wet, viewers reached for their iPhones and cameras. Unlike at many special exhibitions, there are no guards waiting to tell viewers to put away their cameras. On the contrary—the MoMA encourages guests to take “Rain Room” photographs and post them on social media.
The experience is surreal. Within this innovative environment with its incredibly simple premise—what if you could stand in the rain without getting wet?—the possibilities for viewers’ creativity are nearly endless. During my visit, I saw people kissing in the rain, bending into complex yoga poses and doing cartwheels across the floor. If you search the #rainroom hashtag on Instagram, you will see countless pictures—even some of viewers swing dancing and playing the trumpet. The most popular point of view for Rain Room photos is by far with the subject’s head blocking the spotlight, creating a halo of light around their head. But looking at the countless photos, it appears that all possible perspectives have been explored and celebrated.
This watery playground will be leaving New York in a few days. But the spirit of the Rain Room will hopefully return in the form of new experiences where people and art can interact with each other and, in this union, create something wholly their own.
Zoe Madonna is a marketing intern for Siegel+Gale’s New York office.