29Rooms by Refinery29 – San Francisco: A Review

anothertoast - samglorious - overall dress outfit ootd - refinery29 29rooms - san francisco palace of fine arts exterior

This post contains affiliate links, because I like money, but I s2g I wrote this post before adding the affiliate links and the monetization does not affect my opinions.

As someone who doesn’t have an Instagram account, I’m not the kind of person you’d expect to pull the desperate move of using the spotty cell reception between MUNI stops to purchase tickets to an Instagram/selfie museum via my phone the minute they were released, but that’s exactly what I did in in early May, for the Saturday, June 23 session of Refinery29’s 29Rooms in San Francisco, at the Palace of Fine Arts.

Refinery29 describes 29Rooms as an “exhibition comprised of 29 unique spaces that showcase a range of creative disciplines, from poetry to painting to responsive technology,” featuring collaborations “with a broad range of artists, talent, and brands.” 29Rooms first launched in 2015, but this is the first time they’ve held their pop-up “multi-sensory playground” in San Francisco. The theme for this year’s 29Rooms is “Turn It Into Art.”

29rooms san francisco experience review - refinery29 - turn it into art - be the spark live with heart sign

I’d already been to the Color Factory back in March, which was a joyously self-centered experience well worth the price of admission. At $35 per person (before fees), the tickets to 29Rooms were comparable in price, and I was sure that Refinery29’s take on the “Instagram/selfie museums” that have been leaving their non-biodegradable mess of plastic sprinkles all over the city* would be a good one, given their track record of publishing solid fashion and lifestyle content.

*The Museum of Ice Cream can go suck an endangered Hawksbill Turtle egg for their environmentally irresponsible choices as well as their jerkwad move to ask small local businesses for donations of ice cream for “exposure”!!! My 15-year-old cousin who went to the Museum of Ice Cream also said it was kind of boring, so they can eat my entire ass.

(Honestly I’ve been reading a lot less Refinery29 these days than I used to because I feel like their content quality has decreased significantly since the early 2010s, but still. They’re cool! Or so I thought…)

The night before my 29Rooms session, I charged my backup phone batteries, washed my hair, and compared outfit notes with my younger cousin who would be accompanying me. I did not think it would be necessary for me to check their Instagram account or to look at the 29Rooms San Francisco webpage, since I already had my tickets on my phone with instructions to arrive 15 minutes before my scheduled 3-hour time slot, and I wanted to maintain some sense of mystery so I could be ~delighted~ when the actual event happened. (I didn’t even know the 29Rooms San Francisco webpage existed until after the event, because the “link in bio” on their Instagram account led directly to the Eventbrite purchasing page.)

This was my second mistake. (My first mistake was buying tickets to 29Rooms at all.) If I’d checked their Instagram account, I would’ve known that 29Rooms had just announced a partnership with Mastercard, and that if I’d brought my Mastercard, which is my no-rewards credit card that I keep at home for emergencies, I would’ve received a key/pass that would allow me to jump to the front of all the lines.

First of all, rewarding people for having a specific type of credit card seems like an awful way to “create an inclusive, interactive, and highly visual space meant to unlock visitors’ imaginations, spark dialog, and fuel self expression,” emphasis my own. Sure, you’re probably part of a specific moderately-moneyed demographic if you can afford to pay $35 plus fees to go to a selfie museum, but owning and bringing a Mastercard to the event seems like a completely arbitrary criterion for handing out perks, especially when the announcement was made on only Instagram.

In addition, the fact that skipping to the front of the line was considered a valuable perk indicates that they expected the lines at the event to be annoying at the very least, if not straight-up unnavigable.

When my partner dropped me and my cousin off at the Palace of Fine Arts 25 minutes before our scheduled timeslot, I was surprised to see that they’d blocked off all parking near the venue entrance and had tons of staff directing traffic through the newly-designated pickup/dropoff/rideshare zone. I don’t know where we would’ve parked if we’d needed to, but it seemed like a poor use of space.

We were one of the first 30 or so people in line, by my estimate. After milling around and receiving lavender wristbands and little cards that said to present your Mastercard at the merch table for a Special Surprise™, we went through security, which involved a bag search and being sniffed by K-9 dogs. I don’t know what the everloving fuck they’re expecting people to smuggle in, or why someone would try to bring dangerous contraband into a museum where most patrons are just there to take photos for Instagram, but it was uncomfortably intimidating and really set the wrong tone for the rest of our visit.

After passing through security, we were ushered into another line, at the actual entrance to the museum. On the way over was a sign with a QR code to unlock the 29Rooms Snapchat filter.

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It was a pretty cute filter, but it seemed like poor planning to position a single sign at the entrance to the queueing area, where guests walking past would have to stop, pull up Snapchat, scan the code, and then get into line. It only took a few moments for a bottleneck to form because of the Snapchat filter sign, and we felt rushed despite being one of the first 30 or so guests, because we were trying to scan the QR code and run into line before someone behind us (who maybe didn’t care about the Snapchat filter) cut in front of us.

(It turned out that there were a few copies of this Snapchat sign inside the venue, but how were we to know when we were outside?)

As we waited in line, my cousin and I both realized there were way more people than we were expecting for a single timeslot. It made me wonder if, when they announced that they were releasing additional tickets due to popular demand (“AND due to the fact that we 💚 you endlessly”), they were selling tickets beyond the capacity the event was designed to support. I even checked out the extra tickets, thinking they’d added extra timeslots or an additional day, but they were just extra tickets for the same days and times that were in the initial sale.

We had another few minutes’ wait before they started letting us in. I didn’t have my Mastercard with me that day, because I had no idea it would come in handy, so we walked in and went straight to the closest room, which already had a line forming.

(To clarify their terminology, the “29 rooms” weren’t actually all rooms. Some of them were, but many of them were just open-air exhibits/installations with an area for a line to form and an obvious designated photo op.)

Rooms 1-2, “Become the Masterpiece”, a collaboration with artist Alexa Meade, had painted backdrops (Room 1 was a psychedelic explosion of color, while Room 2 was an equally trippy black and white) and painted jackets, accessories, and props you could use for photos. There was also a staff member whom you could hand your phone to take photos for you. The photographer at Room 1 was very patient with people who wanted multiple photos and poses and configurations of their groups, and I appreciated his effort to put people at ease as they tried to pose naturally in front of a growing crowd of people in line for their own photos.

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The painted jackets were practically crispy with paint, but ya know what they were damn cute.

29rooms san francisco - become the masterpiece - alexa meade - refinery29 - psychadelic trippy painting backdrop

The first room took so long that my cousin and I opted to skip Room 2, which was a similar installation but in black and white. (Alas! It would’ve gone so well with my black and white outfit!) Since we didn’t know where anything was located, we took a quick walk around the exhibits nearby and settled on getting in line for Room 5, “Love Is Love,” a collaboration with artist Kate Moross.

Room 5 features the (gorgeous) neon rainbow that launched a thousand Instagram photos. The staff member at this station didn’t know how to take burst photos, which was a bummer, because I ended up with a lot of mid-blink photos. If you’re going with a friend, I’d suggest taking photos for each other (in addition to enlisting the help of the staff).

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#20gayteen

29rooms san francisco - love is love - kate moross - refinery29 - neon rainbow marriage equality lgbtqa pride

peep that yellow sock

During the 10 or so minutes we were in line for Room 5, we finally did the math and realized that with 29 rooms and only 3 hours to get through them, we’d have to spend no more than about 6 minutes per room, including the time it took to wait in line. At that point, we were already behind schedule and we could see all the rooms nearby had massive lines, so we made a game plan to skip over any rooms that weren’t #aesthetic enough and any rooms with super long lines, in favor of trying to visit as many photogenic rooms as possible, even if we had to skip some of the more popular ones.

Unfortunately, we had no idea how the exhibition enter was laid out or what any of the other exhibits were, so rather than waste precious time doing a reconnaissance mission, we made judgment calls as we went, which turned out to be a mistake.

If ONLY I’d had the acumen to visit 29rooms.com on my phone while at the 29Rooms event, open the hamburger menu, click on the San Francisco link, and scroll all the way down to where there’s a map of the exhibition enter, along with names and descriptions of all the rooms. I don’t know how I, a person who watched their Instagram account like a hawk prior to the ticket sales, a person who followed the instructions and clicked on the “link in bio” as soon as tickets were released, a person who was led only to the Eventbrite ticket purchase page, not 29Rooms.com or any of its subdomains or webpages, could have missed the fact that there’s a whole standalone 29Rooms website with city-specific pages.

Normally, in a situation like this, I would blame myself for not planning ahead thoroughly enough. But this time? I completely blame Refinery29 and the 29Rooms organizers.

What I don’t understand is why they didn’t A) put up signs that clearly said “Visit this URL for a map”, B) hand out actual maps, or at least C) have one clearly located physical map that guests could reference. Nobody expects you to wander through Disneyland without a map! And with the lines as long as they were, we might as well have been at Disneyland!!!

ANYWAY.

After our stop at “Love Is Love,” we made our way over to Room 3, “Art Heals,” a collaboration with The Art of Elysium, a 501(c)(3) that helps communities “emotionally triumph over their circumstances through art.” This was essentially a giant sculpture made of many large white spherical paper lanterns, with a staff member at the front setting out paint and paintbrushes for people to use to add their own artwork to the lanterns.

29rooms san francisco - art heals - the art of elysium - refinery29 - paint artwork paper lantern art therapy

I didn’t actually read the description for this exhibit because it was hard to locate the sign, let alone stop and read it among the throngs of people, but I found this installation underwhelming. It was a tense and decidedly not healing experience to try to maneuver through a crowd holding a wet paintbrush, while wearing a white shirt and trying to avoid other people wielding wet paintbrushes, and trying to reach over my head to paint onto a lantern without dripping wet paint onto myself or accidentally leaning on the wet paint of the lanterns below.

Obviously, most patrons opted to paint on a lantern within reach, so everything 5 feet and under was already covered. I did see a woman on a stepladder later on, painting on the upper lanterns, but it seemed like a precarious solution for something that should’ve been easily foreseeable. The paintbrushes we were given were the blocky kind, made of foam, which made it 1) difficult to paint at all on the delicate paper lanterns and 2) difficult to make a painting small enough to leave much room for other patrons’ artwork, given how blunt an instrument was available.

I wanted to write something like Buy “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles on iTunes so I could be 1DAF, but I opted for scrawling just Harry Styles where I could reach, since the paintbrush was unwieldy and I didn’t want to go back for another glob of paint.

29rooms san francisco - art heals - the art of elysium - refinery29 - paint artwork paper lantern art therapy - sam being 1daf

still #1DAF tho

Afterward, we got in line for Room 4, “Move and Be Moved,” a collaboration with Lizzo, whose music is SO GOOD. The description sign for the installation was right outside the door aka only visible to the people at the front of the line, so we had no idea what we were lining up for, but we did it anyway because it basically looked like an explosion of disco balls from what we could see through the doorway, which seemed like a good time.

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so many balls!!!

When we were allowed to enter the room, we were directed to a wall with wireless over-ear headphones (which, by the way, were not sanitized or wiped down in any way between users). My cousin and I pulled our sets on, and my cousin promptly pulled hers off because her volume was earsplittingly high and a staff member had to come over to turn it down for her. My volume was fine, so I started bopping to “Fitness” by Lizzo.

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29rooms san francisco - move and be moved - lizzo - refinery29 - silent disco dance

It was essentially a silent disco, which was somewhat fun for about two minutes, before the reality of trying to dance without inhibition in the presence of a group of strangers in a small room outside of which is a line of impatient people waiting for your spot set in. In terms of photo-worthiness, this room was kind of dimly lit (understandably so, for a disco), which did no favors for our iPhone cameras.

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LEFT: Me, pleased by these shiny balls.

RIGHT: Me, overwhelmed by these shiny balls.

After the silent disco, we stopped at what I later realized was a sponsored exhibit that wasn’t even one of the 29 rooms. It was the “Power Prosperity” station, in partnership with Intuit.

This was supposed to be about women’s empowerment and prosperity and inspiration, or something. All I could tell from afar was that there wasn’t much of a line, there was a wall of cards that spelled out “HUSTLE”, and it had something to do with inspirational quotes. My cousin and I gamely grabbed some business cards and tried to read the instructions on them, but the lighting was SO bad in this area that we just squinted at them for a while and then blindly wrote down something ~inspirational~ as the passing staff member instructed us to do.

When it was our turn to have our photos taken, the staff member at this station was ace 👌🏻. He knew how to take burst photos, he framed the shot a few different ways, and he did it quickly. The cards that formed the word “HUSTLE” turned out to have inspirational quotes from influential women written on them, but it was unclear if I was supposed to put my handwritten card into the wall, or if I was allowed to take a card, or whether there was any purpose other than to get people to @-mention and hashtag Intuit on their social media posts.

29rooms san francisco - power prosperity - intuit - hustle - inspirational quotes from successful women - wall of cards

tbh i am so tired of the word hustle. i don’t want to hustle anymore. please just give me money!!! we have advanced enough as a society for people to stop working so hard!!!

Our next stop was the “Water Works” installation, which was a partnership with Laneige and thus not one of the official 29 rooms, and which was basically just a watery-looking backdrop with some cute pool floats you could pose with. It was nice that there was an actual photographer with a professional setup at this station, and the photos turned out pretty cute, but I swear there was something shady going on with their emailing system.

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WATER is the essence of WETNESS, and WETNESS is the essence of BEAUTY

29rooms san francisco - water works - laneige - refinery29 - pool floats inflatable heart donut waves

After we had our photos taken, we were directed to a kiosk-type setup where we could select which photos we wanted to email to ourselves. We used just my cousin’s email address, since we figured she could share the photos with me later, but an hour later, she hadn’t received anything in her inbox.

My cousin went back to ask them to resend it, which they did, as confirmed by the staff member assisting at the kiosk, and by the confirmation screen on the kiosk. But she still didn’t receive anything.

We thought it might’ve been an issue with that particular email address, so we tried two of my email addresses. Still no dice.

Finally, we entered five different email addresses and two of them came through. You know what the difference was?! For the last set, we opted in to the Laneige marketing emails. Coincidence? I think the fuck not. 🙅🏻‍♀️

Rooms 7-9 were adjacent to each other, so we started at the emptiest one.

Room 9, “Hear Our Voice,” was a collaboration with the Women’s March, featuring floor to ceiling artwork of women’s solidarity and resistance, areas for writing postcards to your representatives (which would be stamped and mailed for you), and a big ol’ sign that said Hear Our Voice.

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Stepping into that room, I felt something like… relief. Because yes, I have been spending money on frivolous events like 29Rooms as a way to distract myself from what I’m unhappy about in my own life and from the state of American politics.

But it reminded me that I am not alone in my feelings of helplessness, of anger, of fear and ferocity at a lifetime of being silenced and being told to be quieter, to be sweeter, to be less. It felt so validating to be in a room full of people (mostly women) who were taking selfies with these empowering words and images. I’d even say it felt a little bit revolutionary to see people giving themselves permission both to practice the radical act of self-love that is liking and feeling good about images of yourself, and to participate in our democracy in this political climate, in the spirit of sisterhood, in awareness of our privileges, and in hope.

29rooms san francisco - hear our voice - womens march - refinery29 - feminism womens rights politics gender equality artwork

29rooms san francisco - hear our voice - womens march - refinery29 - feminism womens rights politics gender equality artwork messages

we r cute

I really liked this installation, and my only criticism about it is the same as my main criticism about the Women’s March: It didn’t feel action-oriented enough – it felt like it was meant to inspire and harness a vague feeling of empowerment without specifying what several thousand people passing through this room might work together to achieve.

The next room we visited was Room 8, “The Future is Female,” a collaboration with musician Madame Gandhi and illustrator Jen Mussari. This room featured punching bags painted (or maybe printed; I couldn’t tell) with feminist phrases. On ledges near the doorway were boxing gloves (also painted or printed with feminist phrases) and giant pump bottles of hand sanitizer. Each time a punching bag was hit, a musical clip would play, so it felt a little Twilight Zone as 🎵 the. futuuuure is female 🎵 played over and over.

29rooms san francisco - the future is female - madame gandhi - jen mussari - refinery29 - punching bags feminist boxing gloves equality

I was excited to visit this room because I never get to punch things, and I wanted to punch things. (I have been wanting to punch things since Trump was elected, but instead I’ve been crying, because that’s what women do.) I’m not especially good at punching things, but wow! Punching things is great! No wonder men let out their aggression through physical violence! It was kind of cathartic, and now I feel like taking a kickboxing class so I can make myself harder to kill!

29rooms san francisco - the future is female - madame gandhi - jen mussari - refinery29 - punching bags feminist boxing gloves

I did have a couple issues with this room, though.

First, I’m not a huge fan of the phrase “the future is female,” simply because “female” is more exclusive than “women,” and in this sense the phrase is part of a somewhat reductive brand of feminism. I understand that “female” makes for a nice alliterative t-shirt slogan, and I understand that this administration has been specific in its threats against people with vaginas, but I think it is equally if not more powerful and subversive to say “the future is feminine.” But that’s a minor gripe.

The larger gripe I had was that the room was too small to house so many people hitting punching bags, let alone friends who might try to help photograph the action. At one point, I actually hit my punching bag and almost knocked over a guy who was holding a really expensive camera. If they’d had fewer punching bags, or spaced out them out just a little farther from the wall, people would’ve been able to get their photographs and punch at full force without endangering anyone else.

29rooms san francisco - the future is female - madame gandhi - jen mussari - refinery29 - punching bags feminist boxing gloves - action shot

I wish I could punch harder!!!

(A medium-sized gripe: There was hand sanitizer provided, but as far as I could tell, the staff wasn’t vocally encouraging people to use it.)

After throwing a few good punches, we made our way to Room 7, “Shred It,” a collaboration with Jake Gyllenhaal that involved a lot of shredded paper. The staff member working at this room was extremely friendly and jokey, which made the wait feel a little shorter.

The walls of Room 7 were covered in white paper, shredded piñata-style. Near the doorway were two hand-crank paper shredders, along with Sharpies, sheets of paper, and instructions to “Put to paper whatever is weighing you down, then shred it and feel the power of letting go.” Along the far wall was a giant, fluffy pile of shredded paper reminiscent of snow, or maybe clouds. (Actually there was only a thin layer of shredded paper – the pile had a foundation of white cushions for structural integrity.)

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Feeling inspired by the previous two rooms (or maybe just feeling despair), I wrote “DONALD FUCKIN TRUMP” on my sheet of paper and then posed for photos of me shredding his name. It was really satisfying! It reminded me of this one time in high school when a few friends and I got together and wrote down things we didn’t want to keep in our lives anymore and then BURNED THEM. Love a symbolic gesture.

29rooms san francisco - shred it - jake gyllenhaal - refinery29 - shredded white paper sharpies hand crank shredder

29rooms san francisco - shred it - jake gyllenhaal - refinery29 - shredded white paper hand crank shredder - donald fuckin trump

29rooms san francisco - shred it - jake gyllenhaal - refinery29 - shredded white paper hand crank shredder - sam has no respect for donald trump

goodbye donald

Other people were taking photos lying down in the giant pile of shredded paper, so my cousin and I tried to do it as well. It was super itchy and super, super dusty, but at least the paper seemed to be in really long pieces, because none of it stuck to my clothing.

29rooms san francisco - shred it - jake gyllenhaal - refinery29 - shredded white paper hand crank shredder destroy what you want to let go of

me trying to look cute n casual lounging on a mound of shredded paper

29rooms san francisco - shred it - jake gyllenhaal - refinery29 - shredded white paper hand crank shredder

me simultaneously realizing there was paper stabbing me in the butt and accidentally inhaling a ton of paper dust

The attendant at this room was really helpful, making sure the shredded paper was adequately hiding the cushions underneath for maximum photogenicity after each patron finished.

Our next stop was Room 13, “Erotica in Bloom,” in collaboration with artist Maisie Cousins. I didn’t know anything about this room other than I had seen it on Instagram and it involved a very pretty array of dangling flowers and vines, but as we approached I said to my cousin, “Is that… a vagina flower? IT’S A VAGINA FLOWER!!!”

29rooms san francisco - erotica in bloom - maisie cousins - refinery29 - flowers vines sexual genitalia vagina symbolism

There was no line for this room (there wasn’t really an area for a line to form), but it was crowded enough that it was impossible to get good photos without being pushy (and boy, were some people pushy). So we had to wait a while before we could stick our heads inside the vagina flowers, which turned out to have a video playing inside, of what might have been just a closeup of butts(?).

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me, neck deep in a vagina flower, looking at butts

29rooms san francisco - erotica in bloom - maisie cousins - refinery29 - flowers vines sexual genitalia vagina symbolism butt video

my cousin, realizing she was watching a video of hands on butts

Apparently there was some kind of scent component to it as well, but I couldn’t smell anything. According to Refinery29, this installation is supposed to make you horny, but frankly it just made me mildly uncomfortable watching a disembodied skinny white butt while I was in public, surrounded by strangers jostling other people out of their photos. It was a pretty enough setup, but I just don’t think there’s much revolutionary about using flowers to symbolize genitalia. It would’ve been way more interesting and provocative to see a different interpretation, like, for example, vagina pants à la Janelle Monáe.

29rooms san francisco - erotica in bloom - maisie cousins - refinery29 - flowers floral vines sexual genitalia vagina symbolism

At least it made for a pretty backdrop.

Our next stop was Room 18, “Bright Future,” a neon installation in collaboration with Planned Parenthood. This room was in an open area instead of an enclosed room, and the neon was particularly photogenic, which made for quick walk-by pictures. The neon lights spelled out “I STAND WITH PLANNED PARENTHOOD” and “CARE no matter what” and “Sex Ed”. There was also a neon set of ovaries, a pack of birth control pills, an IUD, and (my personal favorite) a banana with a condom on it.

If I hadn’t been so preoccupied with running out of time to view the other exhibits, I would’ve liked to spend more time watching the videos of people who have used Planned Parenthood’s services, because it’s one of the organizations I regularly donate to, but I have no personal experience with Planned Parenthood. (As I write this in light of the fact that we may be looking at a Trump-selected judicial nominee who will undoubtedly want to overturn Roe v. Wade, it feels particularly poignant to celebrate accessible birth control and comprehensive sex education.)

29rooms san francisco - bright future - planned parenthood - refinery29 - neon i stand with planned parenthood sign - birth control contraception access sex ed banana condom

29rooms san francisco - bright future - planned parenthood - refinery29 - neon i stand with planned parenthood sign - birth control contraception access sex ed

29rooms san francisco - bright future - planned parenthood - refinery29 - neon i stand with planned parenthood sign - birth control contraception access sex education

Then we made our way over to Room 20, “Everyday Escape,” a partnership with Bravo TV. The line for this room was excruciatingly slow, but the metallic fringe curtains covering the doorways to the rooms looked so enticing! It also felt depressingly apt for 2018 to engage with an art installation about television as escapism. (After all, that’s why I’m spending so much money on escapist entertainment this year… because real life sucks.)

29rooms san francisco - everyday escape - bravo tv - refinery29 - neon white escape sign reality tv

We snapped a couple pictures with the neon white sign reading “Escape” on the exterior wall before eventually being allowed into the room itself. There were 3 fringe-curtained doorways which all led to the same interior, labeled “Fun” (orange), “Adventure” (blue), and “Glamour” (purple). (You can see them in the background of the banana-condom picture above.)

The “Fun” area of the room had something to do with a show called Southern Charm, which I’d never heard of because I actively avoid reality TV on the rare occasions that I do watch TV. We took pictures sitting on the white porch swing overgrown with flowers and leaves (or something… please friend I am not a botanist), which was a little difficult because the 3 exhibits in the room were clustered too closely together.

29rooms san francisco - everyday escape - bravo tv - refinery29 - southern comfort - orange flowers vines porch swing reality tv

Then we waited in line to take pictures in the faux jacuzzi in the center of the room that was somehow related to a show called Below Deck Mediterranean and the concept of “Adventure.” The faux jacuzzi was filled with clear beach balls resembling giant bubbles, some of which had iridescent silver glitter/confetti on the interior surface. When our turn came, we discovered that the lip of the tub was uncomfortably high and difficult to step over, but the glittery beach balls photographed really nicely. It was super uncomfortable taking pictures at this station because SO many people were standing way too close, watching us with thinly-veiled impatience, although my cousin later informed me that one girl in line said my overall dress was cute, so there’s that.

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me, happily nestled among these glamorous balls

29rooms san francisco - everyday escape - bravo tv - refinery29 - below deck mediterranean - glitter confetti beach balls jacuzzi tub nautical

me, skeptically contemplating a single ball of glamour vs. me, vanna white-ing this ultra-rare shiny ball

29rooms san francisco - everyday escape - bravo tv - refinery29 - below deck mediterranean - glitter confetti beach balls jacuzzi tub

me, overwhelmed by balls, as usual

The right side of the room was “Glamour” and had something to do with Vanderpump Rules, which I had also never heard of. The main attraction was a rotating tower of giant martini glasses filled with glitter, which we were not allowed to touch. We didn’t take any pictures with it because it was underwhelming and not very interactive.

After escaping the “Everyday Escape” room, we realized we were getting close to the 2-hour mark, so we quickly scanned the remaining rooms to prioritize our next move.

Room 27 had no line, so we ducked our heads in, but it looked so uninteresting that we left immediately. Apparently Room 27 was called “Once Upon A Time…” and was a collaboration with Jessica Alba for Baby2Baby, an organization that helps low-income children. In passing, it just looked like cheesy pastel grass and trees in 2D, so I don’t think we missed much. (I mean, it’s nice to help low-income children, but I’m not a huge fan of Jessica Alba as a businesswoman for reasons too convoluted to explain here, and we were just trying to maximize our selfie opportunities.)

We quickly popped into the shortest line nearby, which was for Room 25, “Gender Neutral,” a collaboration with director Jill Soloway and artist Xavier Schipani. This room was a teal reproduction of a public restroom, with words and artwork about being trans, genderfluid, and non-binary on the walls and sink and stalls. The concept of this room was really cool, and apparently there were headphones in the stalls that played stories from non-gender-conforming people, but frankly the room smelled weird (kind of like… still toilet water? I don’t think it was just psychological because my cousin smelled it too), so we left after a minute or two of waiting for a stall to clear up.

(It also felt kind of rude to be using the backdrop of trans bathroom access for a photo op. I care a LOT (like, around four years ago, I got into a VERY public screaming match with a former friend for making fun of a trans woman), but I do not want to cheapen the experiences of trans people by using a photo of myself in an Instagram-centric museum “for awareness” just because it makes me look good.)

Finally, we decided to get in line for Rooms 16-17, “Rainbow Voyage,” a collaboration with Marina Fini. This was the much-Instagrammed rainbow dreamscape I’d been eyeing the entire time, but the line was dauntingly long and absurdly slow, so we kept putting it off for later. With just over an hour remaining in our three-hour session, we decided it was now or never.

I got into line while my cousin left to check out the remaining exhibits in case anything looked particularly cool. She texted me that she was in line at Room 19, “Pure Infusion,” a collaboration with Pure Leaf. It looked like they were serving tea, so she said she’d bring me some. Fifteen minutes later, she rejoined me in line, looking disgruntled. Apparently she’d gotten to the front of the line, asked the staff member working the room, “Can I have some tea?” and was told “Oh, sorry, this is for display only, but you can take photos with the tea!” which is?! INCREDIBLY STUPID??? It was just… idiotic. A farce!!!

While I stayed in line, my cousin also checked out Room 14, “Extraordinary Trio,” a partnership with Håagen-Dazs, which was significantly less farcical because she came back bearing cups of Lemon Raspberry White Chocolate TRIO CRISPY LAYERS ice cream. It was damn good. That is all.

Around 1:30, a staff member approached the line and counted off people until he reached the party of 3 right in front of me and my cousin. He told us that because the session was ending in half an hour, they would probably be able to get to all the customers in front of us, but my cousin and I would be right at the cutoff and might not make it in time. We decided to take our chances, since we’d already been waiting for over half an hour, which he said was fine.

The man in front of us, who was with his wife and child, turned around and started asking why they wouldn’t just cut the line off at the end, since everyone in that line had already been waiting for ages, and it was a terrible customer experience. I agreed with him, but I am not a large white man, and he was, so I remained silent. The large white man and the white male staff member argued calmly for a few minutes before coming to an impasse. The staff member left, and the large white man turned around and struck up a conversation with us about how it was bullshit to kick people out of line just because the event organizers had done a bad job of controlling the crowd. During our talk, we came up with a few possible solutions for the stupidly long lines at 29Rooms:

  1. provide people with obvious and easily accessible maps of the venue and so they can decide how to arrange their visit
  2. provide a note to visitors that there may be long lines and they may not be able to view all the rooms, to reduce disappointment
  3. place signs near the lines that say “Your estimated wait beyond this point is XX minutes” so visitors can decide for themselves if an exhibit is worth their time
  4. hand out Disneyland-style FastPasses so you can return to an exhibit during your designated 15-minute time slot
  5. accomodate all visitors who are in line by the 30-minutes-to-closing mark

Another staff member came by to take over managing the line, and the man in front of us started making his complaints to her as well. It wasn’t even for his own sake – his party was (supposedly) guaranteed to make it to the front in time. He was just arguing because it was a truly shitty experience, and I felt that he was rightfully indignant about it on our behalf and on behalf of everyone behind us who had also paid almost $40 to be there and who had also been waiting for 45+ minutes by that point. I wish I had the guts to complain like that. I don’t. I’m too afraid of how speaking up might put me in physical danger, too afraid that I will be talked over and talked down to, and too aware that people won’t take me seriously because I look young (thanks genetics) and stupid (because smart girls don’t care about fashion or makeup) and ASIAN (#modelminority #docile #passive).

The staff member suggested we leave the line to go visit other rooms, which felt really patronizing because all the other rooms that were interesting enough to visit were also having their lines cut off. At some point, the female staff member who was assisting with the actual photography for this exhibit came over and agreed with the man in front of us, that it was unfair for people who had been waiting in line for so long to be turned away, and that she didn’t mind staying to take our photographs.

It was aggravating to watch the minutes tick by as the parties in front of us took probably more than 5 minutes each to take their photos, in multiple poses, with individual and group pictures and Boomerangs. I am definitely generalizing, but I feel like the crowd at the Color Factory was much more conscientious when it came to hogging photo areas. Maybe it was just because the Color Factory wasn’t as rushed, or maybe it’s because every single part of the Color Factory was photo-worthy, but at 29Rooms it felt like people were there to get their own, rather than to share in an art experience. Like, at no point did anyone at 29Rooms say “you can go first” or “sorry, thanks for waiting,” but pretty much everyone did at the Color Factory. I guess at the Color Factory, it felt more like “let’s photograph ourselves because this looks cool” but 29Rooms felt more like “let’s photograph ourselves because it will make us look cool.”

Anyway, at a minute or two past 2PM, the white male staff member returned and said we had to leave. At this point, my cousin and I were at the front of the line, shoes off as was required, waiting for the large white man and his wife and child to finish their photographs. We were literally next in line and he turned us away. We just kind of stood there silently, refusing to move, because there were probably only 5 or 6 of us left in line at that point, all of us young people of color, most of us women. I was hoping the large white man would finish his photos and come out and berate the staff member for us again, but he was watching his child, and then the staff member called over security, who got WAY up in my personal space and said we had to leave.

So we left. I was too physically intimidated to stay. Everyone else behind us left too, and the worst part was that as we walked out, so many of the other rooms were still occupied with people taking photos, not being ushered out. Sure, maybe they were clearing the rooms out starting from the back of the venue, so we were one of the first groups to go. Sure, maybe this wasn’t targeted intimidation and was a matter of someone just trying to do their job. But it sure didn’t feel like it.

I mean, what’s the harm in letting a handful of young women stay 5 minutes past closing? We’d already discussed with each other while in line that we were just going to take one photo per party, to make sure as many of us would get the chance as possible. What kind of irreversible harm were we going to do that they needed to call in security to physically intimidate us?

We left together, in an angrily mumbling group, grousing about the lines, the price of admission, and the helplessness that comes with being A Girl In This World.

It was a terrible and scary way to end our visit, and I will never go to 29Rooms again. It was infuriating, and humiliating, and I felt so belittled and frustrated and CHEATED out of my money. If I’d known what my 29Rooms experience would be like, I wouldn’t have purchased tickets in the first place. (I probably still would’ve done it if tickets were like $10, because my expectations would be much lower, but for almost $40 a ticket? Absolutely not.)

In conclusion, if you’re considering going to 29Rooms in your city, keep in mind that if the purpose of your visit is to take cute photos of yourself, you’re going to be disappointed because the lines are WAY too long for you to get to all the photogenic exhibits. (Unless maybe you own and bring a credit card from whatever financial institution they’ve partnered with so you can get a key/pass.)

If your goal is to see some cool art centered around social causes and cultural commentary, you’ll be slightly less disappointed because some of the celebrity collaborations are really neat, but the lines will still be too long for you to see everything that’s interesting.

All in all, 29Rooms was a disappointment and a waste of my time and money. If you’re looking for a great Instagram-worthy museum to check out, I highly recommend the Color Factory.

Cheers!

anothertoast - samglorious - double space buns - colourpop lippie stix -i heart this lippie - overall dress - white grid mock neck tshirt - love is a many gendered thing - treat people with kindness - tpwk

Lipstick: ColourPop Lippie Stix in I Heart This Lippie. LOVE IS A MANY GENDERED THING pin: Abprallen on Etsy. TREAT PEOPLE WITH KINDNESS pin: Harry Styles merch. White grid-print mock-neck t-shirt: YesStyle. Black denim overall mini dress: Forever21 (similar). Tights: Uniqlo. Chelsea boots: Cole Haan.

anothertoast - samglorious - colourpop lippie stix -i heart this lippie - overall dress - white grid mock neck tshirt - love is a many gendered thing - treat people with kindness - tpwk.JPG

Hammered gold midi ring: MXM Jewelry. Gold and emerald ring: Tiny Armour. Gold and diamond ring: SundayIslandSweden.

samglorious - anothertoast - overall dress outfit ootd - refinery29 29rooms - san francisco palace of fine arts exterior

This little surprise rainbow outside 29Rooms at the Palace of Fine Arts cost me $0 and looked better than any neon sign anyway, amirite?

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