Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Are we having fun yet?

Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Museum of Ice Cream.

The sprinkles got to me first: After Boomerangs on banana swings, the second-most-popular ’gram from the Museum of Ice Cream seemed to be kid-buried-in-the-sprinkle-pit. When the museum premiered in New York in 2016, all the sprinkle pictures confused me, because who would want to eat something in which people had wallowed? The sprinkles aren’t edible, of course—they are plastic. (Duh.)

A recent profile of co-founder and creative director Maryellis Bunn helped me see what should have been obvious all along: The Museum of Ice Cream is not a museum, but a playground, albeit one with a seriously twisted idea of fun. The sprinkle pool is not Willy Wonka’s world of candy, but a giant sandbox.

All the pretty colors led me to dismiss it as just another millennial photo op, falling for what pioneering play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith called the “triviality barrier.” Children’s play in particular—and play, irrationality, and aesthetics in general—are so out of step with our work-oriented civilization that, he wrote in 1970, they have been seen as beneath the dignity of study. I was guilty of making the same mistake, but in fact, a little play theory helps us see the MOIC and its ilk, like Color Factory, for what they really are: working for the weekend.