Jeff Koons strikes some people as a sly satirist of conspicuous consumption and others as a fraudulent product of that same phenomenon, one who may not even have a hand in creating the art that bears his name. His shiny balloon-animal sculptures and candy-colored aesthetic attract vulgar plutocrats, but Koons’ insistence that everything always be pure surface has genuine aesthetic merit. His work might appear mass-produced, but at bottom, it’s craft.
Walking through the Museum of Ice Cream, a Los Angeles selfie palace that sold out quickly and recently extended its residency in the basement of a 100-year-old former bank at 1 Grant Ave. through the end of February 2018, I felt the same conflict I felt at a Koons retrospective a few years ago. Part of me almost wanted to flaunt an unhappier-than-thou dismissal of something that’s trying so very hard to please, but immediately after that, I found myself very pleased. The Museum’s $38 admission might be a tad steep for some families of four to justify — you don’t get to do eat that much ice cream, even if some of it is Bi-Rite — but this subterranean warren of themed rooms is a lot of fun to walk through. If I were 5 years old, or had a 5-year-old, I’d probably enjoy it even more than I did.
Along with docents clad in all pink, blurbs explaining the history of ice cream greet you. There’s also a pink bank vault, and trivia questions about which U.S. state produces the most ice cream. (Hint: It’s capital is Sacramento!) I laughed pretty hard at most of the puns on the jukebox records in the ice-cream parlor, from Meltin’ John to Depeche a La Mode to Freezer — and, unlike my co-worker, I managed not to get brain-freeze while eating mochi on our way to the climbing wall.
After you crawl in and out of the mirrored unicorn stable and swing on the Whip-It swing, the whole thing ends in a pool of (synthetic) sprinkles. To enter, you take your shoes off and stash them in a locker near the Florentine-looking sprinkle fountain. An attendant makes sure you don’t do anything that might cause injury to yourself or others, such as taking 15 Boomerangs while faux-diving off the diving board until you get one you like. The light fixtures way up top resemble sprinkles, but you might only notice that if you let yourself go completely. Upon exiting — hopefully you put your keys and wallet in your locker as instructed, otherwise they’re sinking to the bottom — you vacuum yourself off so you don’t shed plastic sprinkles all over town.
You can hear the chorus of buzzkill germaphobes now: “Eww, bacteria!” But the Museum cleans them — and anyway, if you routinely handle door knobs, cash, BART, and the screen of your phone without compulsively washing your hands, you should maybe consider chilling out and enjoying yourself for once. Or just head to the gift shop and browse through $4,000 bejeweled eclairs and rocket pops, instead.
Depending on your tolerance level for millennial pink, there is one major drawback to the Museum of Ice Cream, however. While the rooms are visually delights, the lighting isn’t always very good. Much of it is fluorescent — there are a few drop ceilings — and, with several notable exceptions, not particularly conducive to fanatical selfie-taking. I’m grinning like a maniac in all my pics and I still look like I didn’t get any sleep the night before. I’ll still scream for ice cream, though.
Museum of Ice Cream, 1 Grant Ave., 855-258-0719 or museumoficecream.com