Art Meets Fashion at the Social Media Spectacle That Is 29Rooms

Get ready to boogie.

"Show Your Pride" in collaboration with Kate Moross at Refinery29's 29Rooms. Courtesy of Refinery29.

Get ready for a social media deluge: The latest hot art and culture selfie spot will almost certainly be 29Rooms, a massive interactive installation from Refinery29.

A colorful, shareable amalgamation of art, fashion, and technology, 29Rooms is the vision of Piera Gelardi, Refinery29’s co-founder and executive creative director, and Albie Alexander Hueston, the company’s creative director of experiential.

“We wanted to make this very visual immersive environment, and highlight incredible creative talent,” said Gelardi told artnet News at a press preview on Thursday. Now in its second year, the event originated as a celebration of the website’s 10th birthday, but succeeded perhaps beyond their expectations.

The day the 2015 edition opened to the public, Hueston recalls, thousands of people were lines up by 9:00 a.m.—and the doors weren’t until noon. They actually cut the line off some four hours before closing. “Okay, learning—need a bigger venue,” said Hueston.

To that end, 29Rooms has moved from Greenpoint to a 80,000-square-foot warehouse in Bushwick with an alleged history of hosting illegal raves.

Street artist Nick Kuszyk has painted the exterior of Refinery29's 29Rooms in true Bushwick Style. Courtesy of Refinery29.

Street artist Nick Kuszyk has painted the exterior of Refinery29’s 29Rooms in true Bushwick Style. Courtesy of Refinery29 and Nick Kuszyk.

In keeping with the street art-rich neighborhood’s aesthetic, Refinery19 has enlisted Nick Kuszyk to paint a colorful mural, designed by Jay Quercia of Oddfellows, for the building exterior. The piece, which resembles a 1970s-era cartoon, doesn’t even begin to hint at the wonders inside.

“I think it blurs the lines of an art fair, an interactive exhibition, a fun house… we want to blur those lines!” said Gelardi.

There’s a distinct celebrity presence, with Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson, herself an illustrator, creating an interactive drawing experience inspired by her forthcoming book, Carry This Book, and “Wig Out,” which draws on the larger-than-life persona of RuPaul with a whimsical hair saloon inspired by the star’s most iconic hairstyles.

"Turn the Tide" in collaboration with the Lonely Whale Foundation and Adrian Grenier at Refinery29's 29Rooms. Courtesy of Refinery29.

“Turn the Tide” in collaboration with the Lonely Whale Foundation and Adrian Grenier at Refinery29’s 29Rooms. Courtesy of Piera Luisa/Refinery29.

The installation also pulls from the visual arts, enlisting Kate Moross to paper a room with typographic piece reading “Love Wins” for a pro-LGBTQ neon rainbow light installation titled “Show Your Pride.”

Daniel Rozin, who magically turns everyday objects like fans and pom-poms into fanciful mirrors that reflect viewer’s motions, showcases a trio of technologically impressive works in “See You.” (Hueston mentioned that it was the first time Rozin had done something so “consumer-facing,” but his similar Troll Mirror was in the branded Target tent at PULSE Miami Beach last year.)

Gelardi and Hueston have also worked closely with non-artists to bring out their creative potential. This collaborative approach allows for all sorts of unexpected experiences.

Model and activist Adwoa Aboah, for instance, has helped create the intriguing room “GURLSTALK,” which comprises over 500 old-school telephone receivers hanging from the ceiling. The piece both shares persona stories from an impressive cadre of female celebrities (Cara Delevingne and Tali Lennox, for example) and encourages visitors to contribute their own tales of overcoming obstacles.

"GURLSKTALK" in collaboration with Adwoa Aboah at Refinery29's 29Rooms. Courtesy of Refinery29.

“GURLSKTALK” in collaboration with Adwoa Aboah at Refinery29’s 29Rooms. Courtesy of Refinery29.

Others are just plain fun. Singer Tinashe has shared two unreleased songs for a silent disco room called “Just Dance,” featuring a reactive LED floor. “You’re powering your own dance floor,” said Hueston. Meanwhile, PHHHOTO’s next-generation photo booth captures a constant stream of GIF-like photos of the crowd dancing for your Instagram pleasure.

This is also your chance to try out Google’s amazing Tilt Brush virtual reality technology, which transforms the entire room into a digital canvas.

And for those of you still smarting over missing the sold-out Museum of Ice Cream‘s pool of sprinkles, there’s “Panda-Monium,” a black and white ball pit with inflatable panda bear heads from Italian-Japanese fashion designer Nicola Formichetti‘s Nicopanda. (“Get ready for this,” Hueston cautioned before leading us in. “I’m warning you, ’cause it’s really good!”)

#pandamonium by @nicolaformichetti's @nicopanda @refinery29's #29rooms #ballpit #panda

A photo posted by Sarah Cascone (@sarahecascone) on

Of course, there’s a fair amount of corporate branding thrown in. Perrier’s “Beyond the Bubbles” sports an impressive balloon display. Michael Kors is also on hand, with a room offering guests the chance to walk the streets of New York in style—because it wouldn’t be Fashion Week without a runway.

Refinery29 has also attracted brands with less of a history of engaging with the arts, such as Ford, which has parked its environmentally-friendly Fusion Energi car, which is made in part from recycled plastic bottles and soybeans, in a glowing garden installation.

"Garden of Energi" in collaboration with Ford Motor Company at Refinery29's 29Rooms. Courtesy of Refinery29.

“Garden of Energi” in collaboration with Ford Motor Company at Refinery29’s 29Rooms. Courtesy of Refinery29.

These corporate overtones don’t preclude thoughtful, engaging work—and, against all odds, 29Rooms avoids feeling like an advertisement, even as it is chock-full of sponsored content. This, most likely, is a reflection of the careful balance that Refinery29 strikes on a daily basis. After all, for Gelardi, 29Rooms is all about bringing the popular women’s website “from URL to IRL.”

“Art and fashion can intimidate people,” said Gelardi, who hopes the free, public event can work against that sense of exclusivity. “We encourage people to play in this place, and to be free.”

Refinery29’s 29Rooms is on view September 9–September 11, 12:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m., 8 Ingraham Street, Brooklyn.


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