It’s not too often that whatever MoMA-inspired freak-outs occurring in New York reverberate out to the West Coast. Recently, New Yorkers and Californians alike displayed the kind of commotion around procuring Kraftwerk tickets that a child normally reserves for their first trip to Disneyland. Rain Room and its hype, which had its moment at MoMA, has now also found its way to the West Coast, where it is currently on view at LACMA.
The hype is only a forewarning. The real concern for alarm is that not a single curator at LACMA has attached their name to the installation and its associated Art + Technology initiative—and for good reason. The whiz-bang Rain Room has all the uncomplicated, vanilla pizzazz of an airport-terminal public art installation. And yet it holds a larger, sadder significance, paralleling much of the economic changes and atomization occurring within California and the U.S.
The installation consists of a large, darkened room with a high-tech drop-down ceiling that pours water onto the grated floor twenty feet below. Using cameras, algorithms turn off only those valves directly above each viewer, creating a dry halo that follows them, as torrents of “rain” come down everywhere else. (Did someone forget to mention there’s a drought in California?) A single white floodlight inundates the space like an oncoming headlight, creating silhouettes of everyone in the room.