Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when open celebration of human sexuality was decidedly taboo, carnivals and fairs served to pique the erotic imagination through otherwise verboten imagery and suggestion. Indeed, they have long drawn on the subconscious – celebrating repressed desire, promiscuity, and rebellion against sexual and societal norms, and serving as outlets for hedonism throughout history. They also allowed revelers to experience decadent pleasure and, quite often, actual vice.
Fittingly, the Museum of Sex, whose mission is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history and cultural significance of human sexuality, has just opened its largest and most immersive exhibition to date, Super Funland: Journey into the Underground Carnival. Inspired by the social, artistic, and purely salacious aspects of historical fairground attractions, it reimagines the illicit thrills of a lost world of traveling carnivals and World’s Fairs for 21st century audiences, blurring the line between art and experience, and inviting visitors to become participants in said history as well.
Super Funland‘s exploration of the carnival’s roots is accompanied by a multi-floor interaction exhibition of thirteen humorously explicit games and amusements, as reimagined by contemporary artists – allowing for the possibility of losing oneself in both the carnality and the simple joy of the fair.
The exhibition opens with the living history of Al Stencell, who proverbially joined the circus at age 11 and documented the midway’s underbelly of burlesque, strip, and girlie shows along the way. The exhibition then transitions into an immersive 180-degree cinema, which depicts the carnival’s origins, followed by “Stardust Lane,” a forty-foot kaleidoscope where six dioramas represent examples of bawdy moments from the World’s Fairs and Coney Island, which emerged in the 19th century as one of the most notorious meccas devoted to hedonism.
A variety of amusements encouraged licentious behavior, with headline attractions such as the “Blowhole Theater,” which exposed the lower halves of skirt-wearing visitors. Upon visiting New York in 1909, Sigmund Freud himself purportedly said that, “The only thing about America that interests me is Coney Island.”
Additional highlights to arouse the senses include a 4-D immersive “Tunnel of Love” ride, an erotic fortune-telling machine modeled as RuPaul and styled by personal designer Zaldy; and an elaborate illuminated climbing structure leading to a two-story spiral slide, which whisks visitors into the museum’s psychedelic carnival bar, Lollipop Lounge. One can also test one’s romantic vigor with a biometric Kissing Booth.
Original commissions were created by an international team of artists and designers that include Bompas and Parr (UK), Droog (Netherlands), Bart Hess (Netherlands), Rebecca Purcell (US), and Snøhetta (Norway).
Seriously, Super Funland is without a doubt the most fun you’ll have all year for the price of a museum admission.
The Museum of Sex is located in at 233 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s NoMad district – so to keep the hedonism going, we suggest drinks at the nearby Clocktower, the always fabulous bar/restaurant at the New York EDITION hotel, inside the namesake’s architectural treasure, followed by a late dinner of decadent comfort food at The Breslin inside the Ace Hotel just a few blocks up.