Whispers from the back of the line say it's going to be at least three hours. Those at the front have been there since 8am – several hours before the doors open – yet no one dares to grumble about the wait. Random International's Rain Room exhibit has been on the entire city's must-see list since arriving at the Museum of Modern Art, but the collective patience of the crowd is a thin veil while everyone holds their breath to see if it's worth all the hype.The afternoon calls for rain, but it's hot and clear in the morning. Those with anticipatory umbrellas use them as shields against the sun – it's rather ironic, considering they're heading indoors for a rainy installation where they won't get wet unless they try.
After the three plus hours of waiting, visitors are invited into a free standing structure built especially for the exhibit on a vacant lot adjacent to MoMA. Even before walking around a tall dark screen into the piece, the change of environment is astounding. A vague humidity and the sounds of trickling water come from within. It is quite dark, and the combination is reminiscent of touring an underground waterfall buried deep in the earth.
Into The Spotlight
When I first walked into the main space, the singular source of light from the back of the room was a little jarring, as though I’d suddenly turned into the sun. Despite the additional though shorter line to wait in, the surroundings were mesmerizing and the crowd watched in a hushed awe, pushing up against the line barriers to get a better look as others explored the rain space.
People walked slowly, often with palms facing the ceiling as if expecting a downpour that never comes. Of course it is possible to beat the sensors by moving quickly – as many of the young children did – delighting themselves in a giant mystical water park of sorts. However, most visitors did the former, exploring the sensation of walking into a sheet of rain only to have it clear a path for them in a five foot breadth, possibly receiving a few trickles here or there, but otherwise staying dry.
While the transcendental illusion created by the start/stop mechanisms of the sensors are a primary focus, the light source drives the point home, responsible for the incredible silhouetted imagery associated with the exhibition. Features are obscured while outlines are defined by a halo of rim lighting. The strong figural shapes ground the effect, reminding us of the humanity we may have forgotten due to the supernatural behavior of the rain flow. The result is an incredible balance of the ephemeral and the internal; personal experience married to the collective one as our identities are obscured and we become negative space within the rain – our faceless forms acting as the evidence of our interactions with the piece.
Conceding To The Illusion
Random International developed and perfected the sensory based technology over the course of three years, keeping the full details from the public so as not to shatter the magic of the experience. While the choice to keep their secrets has been in question by some, I have to say, I prefer it this way. When someone goes through the trouble of creating an environment that allows us to feel that we can control the very forces of nature, an experience which binds us through our understanding of our place within the natural world and a temporary defiance of it, why look to dispel the illusion?
Once I had my chance to go through, I wanted to make the feeling last as long as possible, yet MoMA suggests a time frame of ten minutes per visitor – and understandably so, considering all the other people waiting. So far as the question goes, everyone we spoke with was in agreement. It was definitely worth the wait!
However, we do have some advise to offer visitors: buy your tickets in advance, come as early as possible and be prepared for long hours of hanging out on the sidewalk. If you have one, or are considering a membership to the museum, you will get line priority and early entry. Finally, from my personal experience, I the found that the grated flooring of the installation was rather painful on my bare feet—keep your shoes on!
MoMA – "The Rain Room" by Random International – May 12th to July 28th, 2013 – Sat-Wed: 10:30am-5:50pm, Thurs & Fri: 10:30-8:00pm (July & August) – [Admission: $25 Adults – reduced price for Museum members & students]
Article by Meredith Caraher