It is easier to have a decorous conversation with strangers in a bounce house of enormous plastic breasts than I had initially thought. This inflatable-boob room is the set piece of Bompas & Parr's exhibit for the Museum of Sex called "Funland: Pleasures & Perils of the Erotic Fairground." I spoke to the pair — Sam Bompas and Harry Parr — as the three of us jumped and navigated the dozen or so fake tits — which ranged in size from large Jello mold to small igloo. As we leaped about, we talked about endorphins (from the jumping), the way museums show sex, and Instagram’s nipple policies.
Bompas and Parr are somewhat concerned about Instagram. They are naturally attuned to the way their work will come across on social media; and the inflatable-boob room, where half the boobs are taller than this reporter, seems primed for sharing. But nipples and social media are having a hot, little territorial fight at the moment. Parr hopes no one gets banned from Instagram for museum-going enthusiasm.
Famed for their architectural Jello displays and their synesthesia-inspired fireworks displays (New Year's Eve, 2013–2014, in London; the explosions were scented with peach or strawberries), Bompas and Parr want their work to be captured easily as a story for their audience — “stories for life," as Parr puts it. “That is what people want from museums now.”
The story of their current exhibit reads like a Willy Wonka sex dream. It’s sexy in the way that a hot dog is sexy, which is to say, it’s not. It’s so graphic and obvious, it comes back around from being suggestive to just being a joke about things that are about sex.
Sex in museums is usually romantic, formal, and stuffy — or deliberately and seriously provocative. This pretension is what makes it fun and playful to giggle about seeing a tantric-sex scene on a very old pot. "Funland" loses a bit of this unintentional fun, by losing this tension. But, as giggling seems redundant while playing a roll-ball carnival game with molded penises instead of race horses — thoughtful meditations about sex, pleasure, and eroticism are inspired more easily.
The Museum of Sex approached Bompas and Parr while they were bar-tending in New York (they are well regarded for their food science) with the idea for a bounce castle of breasts. “We loved the idea,” said Parr, “but we knew we had to apply a theme and academic rigor.” They brought along Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of the U.K. National Fairground Archive, to provide contextual grounding in carnivals of yore, with their promises of pleasure. The lighting is very fun-house; the music composed by Dom Jones is like hearing a Vincent Price doing porn.
The exhibit begins with a mirror maze called the Tunnel of Love. At its conclusion, the wanderer has reached “the G-spot.” This is a little on-the-nose. After the love canal, one enters the bouncy boob castle (capacity: six people). It evokes the famed field of butts from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” video. The artists did not admit to this inspiration, but they said they appreciated the comparison. After a “roll-ball” carnival game and an archival movie reel (with some amateur porn from carnival workers), one arrives to the final activity: Grope Mountain.
This is a climbing wall with body parts as handholds, designed by a professional rock-wall setter. The duo said that it’s particularly made for observation; while people are on the wall, they forget what they might be clutching, out of fear that they'll fall onto the floor at the Museum of Sex. When the observer looks at the wall, she just sees a person madly reaching for a plaster dick or an inside butt cheek, or some boobs.
Won’t this all be a little awkward to attend with friends or dates? I ask, in a couple different ways. Parr counters: “You know, it’s actually nice to have some awkwardness, some realness. So much of socializing is just chat and spoff. Here you can see a real person, you see that people are real human beings.”
We agreed that we would feel strange about this as a first-date locale, but thought maybe a third date would be fine. I had nearly finished making my way around the climbing wall when, because of general clumsiness, I bruised my knee on a plaster butt.
The exhibit opens June 26, 2014, and will run until spring 2015.
Most Viewed Stories
Report: Donald and Melania Trump Don’t Sleep in the Same Bed
Former Thinx Employee Accuses Miki Agrawal of Sexual Harassment
Am I Finally Done With White Guys?
Anna Wintour’s Daughter Got Engaged to Franca Sozzani’s Son
Ask Polly: Why Does My Terrible Ex Get to Be So Happy?
Why Millennial Pink Refuses to Go Away
What I Remember About the Moms Who Paid Me to Babysit
Ashley Olsen Reportedly Broke Up With Her 58-Year-Old Boyfriend
When Ivanka Trump Was a Cool Teen, She Reportedly Went ‘Missing’ in Aspen
3 Relationship Counselors On What Big Little Lies Tells Us About Domestic Violence
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesA Holiday Season Weekend Through London
A good guide for avid The Crown fans.It’s About Time You Learned Tove Lo’s Name
The singer has crafted pop hits you’ve heard a thousand times by now.Marina Abramovic Has Outlasted Her Lovers and, She Hopes, Her Critics
The world's most famous performance artist at 70.The Wing: Do Women Still Need a Space of Their Own?
This exclusive social club for women, is part sorority, part start-up.In Virtual Reality, Women Run the World
A new generation of female artists is making VR the most diverse corner of the male-dominated tech space.The Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Ava DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.Don’t Mess This Up, Mischa Barton
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.