Updated: Feb 25, 2020
Despite our love for weekend getaways and out of town holidays, our home base is ultimately New York. Luckily, packed within Manhattan’s handful of streets is a continuously shifting array of clever, bizarre and charming pop-up installations that prevent local adventuring from ever growing stale. Most pop-ups will pass through town for a few months, however this especially popular and remarkably long-running pop-up from August of 2018 is still active today. Color Factory in SoHo is a large, bright, interactive art explosion that is probably our favorite pop-up we have yet visited.
We began our adventure in the installation’s lobby: a neutral white room with a curved tier of stairs in the corner, rising like a wedding cake from the ground. We sat on the stairs eating our complimentary mochi (a popular Japanese ice-cream rice cake that tastes simultaneously like bread and Jell-o) and from the stairs we people watched the line. As it turned out, the queue was surprisingly familiar as Paige immediately recognized her cousin in the crowd. Humored by this chance encounter, we stepped down from the risers and chatted pleasantly with her while we waited for our time slot.
As we reached our time slot, we were shepherded into a small theater for our introduction video. Several rows of colorfully lit benches faced a screen, which began to play a quick film after we were settled. Despite feeling slightly like we were being brainwashed into a cult, we were blown away by the high-production values in the video and were excited to get started. The door were opened into the first room and the exploration began.
Tablets crowded the tables of the first room, each conveniently allowing a sign-up for photographs. One of the best features of Color Factory is that it covers much of the burden of documentation for you - the rooms come pre-fit with perfectly angled cameras that can forward snaps directly to you via your initial email sign-up. It was hard for us to focus on the paperwork however, because revolving lazily through the same room is a conveyor belt brimming with eye-popping macarons ready for the taking. We helped ourselves to a handful and then wandered over to a wall where you can take a picture with a number of painted cartoon flowers. Each of them is strapped with a hopelessly sad grin that evokes the idea they may be the trapped souls of Color Factory patrons who ate too many macarons.
As we passed through to the next room, we walked by the “Wall of Buttons”, which describes the hallway painted with different color swatches and covered in corresponding pin-back buttons. The sign encourages you to pick a colored badge that speaks to you, which I found difficult. I made at least three definitive selections before feeling secure and had to reason out my selection with Paige’s cousin (who almost certainly was ready to move to the next room). Paige, however, made an immediate selection of a foul, sickly green and proclaimed it to be the most beautiful color she had ever seen. I told her that it looked a bit pukey, but she stood resolutely by it until she discovered it’s official name was “Goose-Turd Green” (other popular alternatives included the understated “Vomit”). She eyed her badge sadly, looking betrayed.
The next room was set up like a cheerful prison phone call. A thick pane of glass separated Paige and me while we drew each other, as per instructions on a provided worksheet. The idea is to draw a color profile that captures the tones in your partner’s skin and to follow it with a line drawing of that person. Mine came out looking less like Paige and more like one of Picasso’s early flops. Subsequent rooms included another candy counter (we were assigned black licorice and the sympathetic attendant offered us a swap but instead we gagged it down dutifully) and a small nook filled with random woodblocks on pedestals. This room was subject to a constant, tuneless echo that bounced dismally around the small space. We asked the room’s staff member if anyone had ever played anything good and he shook his head miserably.
After passing through a throwaway room filled with a vague breeze and a couple of partially deflated balloons, we reached the “Secret Colors” display. We followed a flowchart on the floor which, through a series of random questions, determined our secret color for a photograph. Next we passed through a disco hall where Paige and I took danced ourselves to exhaustion and challenged each other to hopscotch across the floor on fluctuating colored spots. We were also offered a drink in this room, although whatever beverage was passed our way was stubbornly indigestible.
The next room deserves special mention as one of our personal favorites. It was a hallway with a display catered by Mmuseumm, one of our top museums. The museum itself is a tiny curiosity housed in a disused TriBeCa freight elevator and focuses on overlooked objects. The Mmuseumm’s contribution here was a nice surprise and a genuine treat for us. It included a display of fake vomit and things that were reported as bombs but were not in fact bombs (including a vibrator that even on close inspection could very well still be a bomb).
The next few rooms featured a number of cute ideas including a color palette wall where you can learn the names of your favorites and large color wheels that you can lay on for a top-down video (the lovely staff here are more than willing to give you a proper merry-go-round spin). But these rooms serve only as a measly warm-up for the grand finale: the largest ball pit that we have ever seen.
Ball pits are a standard feature of pop-ups and usually are a similar scale to an above-ground paddling pool. The Color Factory has an impressive scale ball pit however - filled with rollicking waves of teal balls, it stretches out like a veritable ocean. Of course this grand scale doesn’t take away some of the fundamental issues faced in ball pits, namely the static plastic’s tendency to collect hair like it is building a nest. But apart from the occasional grody knit sweater of human hair, the ball pit seems to be well-tended and was some of the most genuine good-natured fun we’ve had. After ages of snapping photographs with the imbedded ceiling cameras and challenging each other to exhausting races across the pool, Paige and I were eventually kicked out as the exhibit was closing for the evening.
We were treated to one more goody before closing: a small colorful keepsake of our choice and a delicious cup of gelato. We gathered our things and walked across the street to a small park filled with steel swivel chairs. There we sat and spun, reminiscing about our most colorful adventure yet.
The Color Factory has continually threatened to close since it was started, but as it continues to be one of New York City’s most popular exhibits, that closing date keeps getting pushed back. This is great news for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to explore yet, as it is currently slated to remain open until January 31st. It is open daily (except Wednesdays), although its hours change day-by-day so it is worth checking the website for the most updated information.
Admission is $38. Check http://www.colorfactory.co/ for information and tickets.
For our complete gallery of snaps, visit our Color Factory photo log at http://saycheese.colorfactory.co/974bb6a80e/gallery/8acbc59d91.