The first thing you notice about Rain Room, the sure blockbuster installation that was in the Barbican Centre last year and opened at MoMA in NYC on Friday, is the tropical humidity. The second thing is the sound from hundreds of litres of water pouring from an artificial ceiling. Finally, after your eyes adjust to the darkness, you actually see it: Rain Room, a 1,000-square-foot space that’s in a state of perpetual downpour.
Except you never get wet. Thanks to eight motion sensors installed above the space, the water pouring from the ceiling shivers to avoid you as you move through the room, leaving you completely dry. The sensation of walking through a wall of water and staying dry is uncanny—and watching how people react is part of the fun. “Rain Room [pushes] people outside their comfort zones, extracting their base auto-responses and playing with intuition,” explain its creators, the London technology and art collective rAndom International. “Observing how these unpredictable outcomes will manifest themselves, and the experimentation with this world of often barely perceptible behaviour and its simulation, is our main driving force.”
The designers at rAndom International have spent the past three years developing the technology that powers the installation. Recreating rain, you see, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Water dropping from twenty feet above feels very different than rain dropping from clouds thousands of feet overhead, for example. And circulating thousands of litres of water through public space has its own unique sanitation issues. To deal with both hurdles, MoMA’s team built Rain Room its own building, wedged into an empty lot next door to the ill-fated American Folk Art Museum. The artists, for their part, have stayed mum on the specifics of the technology—they argue that it’s all part of the magic.
Rain Room is the kind of installation that museums dream of: wonderfully experiential and accessible to almost every sort of audience, with a New Aesthetic street cred to back it up. Like New Museum’s Carsten Holler exhibit, or the Guggenheim’s (conceptual) trampoline, Rain Room is a taste of things to come for MoMA, which (like all museums) is struggling to reach new audiences and make the most of what it has. All of that aside, on a hot Sunday afternoon, Rain Room is hard not to love. If you missed it in London, check it out if you're in NYC until July 28. [MoMA]