The Museum of Modern Art has transformed an empty adjacent lot into a large scale art installation, and so I recently found myself at the edge of a dark, damp room lit by one bright light, watching people walk through rain pouring softly from the ceiling. I love and hate modern art, and find myself hating it more often than I find myself loving it, but I have to admit, my first impression was that this particular installation was magical.
In fact, magic is a word often used to describe the Rain Room. As one newspaper noted, "If magic were real, it might feel something like this." Part of the magic is that you can walk straight into what appears to be a serious downpour, and stay completely dry. You feel like you have the power to control the rain. Of course, you also have to walk slowly, and you are aware, at least subconsciously, that sensors mounted on the ceiling are detecting your every move. Still, there is something very surreal about walking through a rainstorm in the dark and not feeling a drop of water. And for a person who has lived in rainy London, it is also kind of a dream come true.
The magic of the Rain Room is also what it does to those who are experiencing it. When you enter, you stand in a waiting line and watch the shapes of the people who entered before you. The people under the rain pose for pictures and hug one another and walk around testing every inch of the installation, all the while experiencing the strange sensation that comes from hearing and smelling and feeling the wet warmth around you while staying completely dry. Those people are completely unaware that those of us waiting are watching their every move. Strangely, under the rain, no one is self conscious. As one of the creators stated, "the installation recognizes the presence of the viewer," but magically, the participants do not.
I liked the rain room very much, but there is of course room for critique. The creators of the Rain Room aren't elaborating on the technology they developed, which is complicated I'm sure, but the experience would be more surreal if the dry "circle" above a person walking through the installation was much smaller. If three or more people are standing together, the large dry space that opens up above seems less god-like and more like a glitch in the system. Perhaps an easy non-technological fix would be to allow only 5 or so people to walk through at a time, with instructions to venture out on one's own and to avoid group encounters while under the rain. In addition, I think viewers would get more out of the art if there was a more somber or serious atmosphere in the room. Finally, I think allowing photography is great, but loud people who just want to stand on the sidelines to Instagram should be kicked out stat.
If you're in New York I encourage you to see it. Walk slow and don't get wet.