New York City’s trendy, so-called NoMad district (North of Madison Square Park) has seen its share of hip art installations, high-technology displays, and exotic food festivals in the 10 years since Shake Shack set up shop there. But none quite compare with Funland, the Museum of Sex’s new carnivalesque mashup of erotica, edibles, and architecture. It’s “a sensual exhibition to pique the most jaded museumgoer’s palate,” say its creators, the London-based conceptual artists Bompas and Parr.
Funland, which opens its midway today, is no tawdry Times Square peep show. And Sam Bompas and Harry Parr are not pornographers. Their eponymous London studio creates distinctive jellies in service of “flavor-based experience design,” culinary research, architectural installations, and, well, good eating. Funland is an idea that’s been percolating in the Bompas and Parr studio’s collective consciousness for some time. “With Funland, we wanted to explore whether architecture could elicit an erotic response,” the duo told me in an email.
Their starting point was what they call the “transgressive” space of a carnival fairground. The itinerant “funfair has always had an air of other-worldliness to it,” says Bompas about British carnie culture. “In its pre-industrial days the fairground was seen as a venue for the pursuit of pleasure—a carnival in which all aspects of society could mingle and participate in a multitude of vices and experiences,” Parr adds.
For Funland, the duo collaborated with Professor Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive, which for last 20 years has been documenting the carnival-culture ephemera. She provided many of the oddities exhibited at Funland, including a DIY sex film made by a fairground owner. “After shooting a promotional film for his fairground, he used the rest of the reel for a salacious personal project,” Parr says, adding that this will be the first time the footage has been made public.
Although some of the installations are admittedly wild, like a bouncy castle of breasts entitled “Jump of Joy,” the duo insists the exhibit is not meant to scandalize. That particular installation is “designed to increase awareness of the body and create the thrilling possibility of physical contact between strangers. The energy of the inflatable promotes a rush of endorphins—many of which are the same as those released at the point of orgasm. Ideally, gallery goers will leave smiling rather than shocked.”
After all, HBO has made it tough to be shocked about sex of all kinds. Bompas and Parr say Funland is a meant to engage in a more personal manner than TV or film does. “A trip to Funland is a total sensory assault,” Parr says. “We’ve been working to create an embodied experience, one that addresses all the senses.”
So, viewers physically interact with the exhibits: searching out the G-Spot Grotto at the heart of the Tunnel of Love, romping on that bouncy castle of breasts, and conquering Grope Mountain, a climbing wall covered in appendages and orifices. The duo have also developed a full Funland menu based on the historic fair food, including coconut cocktails and candied-apple popcorn.
Bompass and Parr have previously created architectural jelly, walk-in cocktail clouds that intoxicate through the lungs and eyeballs, and flooded buildings with cognac punch that visitors boated across before having a glass. While Funland’s carnal focus is new for them, they insist the aim remains the same: “You could argue that we normally address one of the body’s most sensitive organs—the belly.”
The goal of the whole exhibit, they say, is simple: to make for a memorable time at the museum. “If visitors leave with tales of erotic adventure that help them command attention at their next dinner party, it’s been a success.”