“We hope that people will interact with each other, not just with the boobs,” said Museum of Sex director of exhibitions Mark Snyder, gesturing to the moonbounce behind him made of enormous inflatable breasts. The erotic bouncy castle is part of the Museum’s new exhibition, “Funland,” a large-scale art show that looks like a cross between a carnival, a peep show, and psychedelic nightmare John Waters would have.
The artists behind the exhibit, Sam Bompas and Henry Parr, gained fame in the UK for such projects as an inhabitable gin and tonic, a fruit-themed boating lake, and the world’s first glow-in-the-dark ice cream cone. For “Funland,” the two collaborated with Vanessa Toulmin, the director of the UK national fairground archive, to brew up a showcase “designed to stimulate he sense in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways,” as the press release says.
Bompas & Parr also extended their waggish touches to the Museum’s café, Play, by working with chef Humberto Gualipa and bartender Jeff Kearns to introduce a series of snacks and intricately titled cocktails, like “Julia Child’s Fan Mail” and “Lady Chatterly’s Bicycle Seat,” or, my favorite, “Loose Women and Pickpockets.”
Attractions include a “Foreplay Derby,” a game reminiscent of the ones on Coney Island where competitors aim streams of water at a target in order to propel forward a racehorse. Except here, the horses are replaced with gold-painted dildos. (The designers at PAN Studio helped designer the “racing wang” technology.)
The beginning of the exhibit is a “Tunnel of Love,” a dimly lit hall of mirrors that leads visitors on their journey to find the “G-Spot” at the end. (The G-spot at the send is actually a theremin embedded in a mound of flesh-colored plastic.) There’s also a modest climbing wall, “Grope Mountain,” where the handholds are all shaped like genitalia.
“We want people to be surprised, and to open up a little bit,” Snyder said. “The idea is to recreate that element of carnivals that made them such good places to bring a date. They’re places that leave you slightly off-kilter, giving you an excuse to grab on to someone’s shoulder or reach for a steadying hand.”
The centerpiece of the show is clearly the all-boob moonbounce, titled “Jump for Joy.” What is it like to jump in a bouncy castle made of towering breasts? Not unpleasant, if vaguely Freudian. A soundtrack of moans set to a brisk techno beat plays around you as you careen off the mountainous lady lumps that protrude from the walls and floor. It’s hard not to envision Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) where a runaway breast terrorizes the countryside.
But you can only sustain analytical thoughts for so long in a moonbounce. Even Snyder, who had been standing outside while I attempted to navigate the landscape of jugs, soon jumped into the fray and began compulsively giggling. Whatever else “Funland” is—an exploration of the overlaps between erotica and carnival culture, a sly wink at the Jeff Koons-ian large-scale exhibitions overtaking the rest of the city—it’s just flat-out fun. There’s a refreshing element of silliness about it. The whole effect is a show that’s more whimsical than titillating, more gleeful than seductive, more Willy Wonka than Al Goldstein.
It’s a wise move. After all, it’s pretty hard to shock museum-going New Yorkers these days. It’s a way more interesting challenge to get them to crack a smile.
Funland is open now at the Museum of Sex, 233 5th Avenue.
Follow Margaret Eby on Twitter @margareteby