By Deanna Costa
Of course, there can be no happiness in America without lots of corporate support.
The Happy Place has made it to Boston (through June 2) by way of Toronto, but its mindless LA roots arent’t interested in accommodating local flavor. For $30, patrons are invited to explore the installation’s six vapid rooms for as long as they like, snapping photos along the way. The goal? The Happy Place says its mission is to maximize visitors’ overall happiness level. Apparently, this means taking lots of snapshots in what turns out to be a superficial fun house. In order to save you money — thus raising your happiness level for free — I will give you the flavor of what I saw as I breezed through the show in less than a half an hour (it claims to be an hour-long exhibit).
As guests enter the warehouse-like lobby, they are greeted by a staff member who says that cameras are permitted. People are encouraged to memorialize their experience in what turns out to be a series of scenes dedicated to larger-than-life nostalgia. Slogans such as “Capture your happy” and “the Most Instagrammable Pop-Up in America” summarize the operation’s profitable M.O. Ironically, many of the props and features in the rooms are shoddily put together, but not so poorly that a camera would pick up the flaws. Nothing was present that a filter couldn’t fix.
The first space in the maze-like structure features a lovely staff member passing out little cups of white and yellow M&M’s that stamped with a Happy Place logos. Giant yellow high heels set to the right of the candy stand look as though they were made out of M&M’s.
Walking through a heart-shaped archway, the next stop is a X’s & O’s (hugs and kisses) themed room. The area’s only objects are a lip-shaped couch, a four-foot mirrored XO statute, and a sign warning against attempting to climb inside the O’s heart-shaped innards. There are limits to how much fun one can have inside the Happy Place Boston.
Moving along the path that leads away from the bright red lips, alcoves with three unique backdrops line each side of a hallway-like stretch. These cramped spaces turn out to be nothing more than overpriced photo booths. One rectangle is plastered with small, reflective pieces of metal a five year-old could put together with supplies from a craft store. Another is just filled with rows of hanging white chains. The final box was the most interesting of the three: a bath time fantasia that could be the result of a bad LSD trip. Rubber duckies are glued in perfect rows along the walls, surrounding a bright yellow plastic bathtub, which sits in the middle of an equally blinding yellow floor. Yellow ball pit balls fill up the tub; Happy Placers are encouraged to climb inside and toss a few in the air for some no doubt oh-so-hilarious photo ops.
Let’s jump to the penultimate room, which was my personal favorite. The lighting design here is more sophisticated than elsewhere The only sources of illumination are dim, grate-covered phosphorescent lights that hang above the space, which is is vertically divided by a darkened structure that symbolizes ‘the ground.’ Four haphazardly arranged rows of black ladders are placed underneath a raised (by about three feet) bed of fake yellow carnations and goldenrods. Visitors can climb up the short ladders and plant themselves among the ‘natural’ polyester around them. Flowers and plastic crystals made of fishing wire hang from the ceiling — more growths in a surreal garden.
Of course, there can be no happiness in America without lots of corporate support. Vapid phrases such as “Happy” and “Did we just become best friends?” line the installation’s walls — along with a five-foot Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup. (I asked the press director if the Dunkins features were exclusive to the 500 Boylston Street pop-up. The answer was affirmative; DD is the show’s New England corporate sponsor.) Revelers can thank Dunkin’ for some freebies on the way out; two bubbly staff members pass out donuts and coffees next to a free lemonade stand. Of course, there is also a small shop where Happy Place fanatics can purchase t-shirts and jean jackets that are embossed with the installation’s smiling yellow logo. Knickknacks such as journals, tiny pinatas, water bottles, metal mugs, and other curios are for sale at the “Backyard Boutique” as well.
For me, the real title for this installation should be The Sad State. The piece has been designed for privileged ’90s babies who won’t let go of a pampered (at least in retrospect) childhood. Who else would want to spend an hour in such indulgent selfie surroundings? There are reduced prices for children ($20 for ages 4-12, while kids 3 and under are free), but don’t bring the little ones to Happy Place Boston. It will be downright dangerous for them to roll around in the tub of yellow ball pit balls with time-tripping adults.
Deanna Costa is a recent graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, where she earned a B.S. in Journalism with a focus on Magazine Design. During her time at BU, she covered local concerts for on-campus publications in multiple formats. Outside of writing, she routinely interviewed artists and reviewed albums live on her weekly radio show, DJ-ed on campus events, and held the Studio Productions Director position in 2017. Currently, she is a full-time administrative assistant, a freelance music journalist, and a podcast co-host alongside her husband.