A spaceship has crash-landed in Dallas and is leaking a kaleidoscopic rainbow of jet fuel that has given life to a variety of celestial beings and habitats.
That's the premise when guests walk into the Sweet Tooth Hotel, a pop-up art space in Victory Park. It's one of several so-called immersion experiences that have sprung up in recent months in Dallas-Fort Worth, promising journeys to otherworldly places where folks can interact with large-scale artworks, take stunning pictures and make all of their social-media friends jealous.
Sounds intriguing, right? There's just one problem: Some of these pop-ups feature installations that are more like glorified J.C. Penney photo backdrops than compelling works of art.
At least four of these places have opened in Dallas, and they vary in both legitimacy and price. Because that's the other thing — tickets to experience these experiences are often expensive, but what's the perfect Instagram shot worth to you? We're hoping to help you get the best return on your investment.
Eye Scream Wasted
Eye Scream Wasted is billed as a "pop-apocalyptic pop art ice cream experience" housed in a warehouse in the Dallas Design District. The concept stemmed from a short-lived ice cream shop in Oak Cliff called Ice Cream Wasted, which made vegan, alcohol-infused treats by the scoop.
Ducking into the darkly lit lobby with two diner-style booths and a bar, the space showed promise. After paying $25, I was directed through a doorway that led into a single room painted in bright pastels. Large cubicle-like spaces included a lavender jail cell with a bunk bed frame and rotary pay phone, a pink and teal convenience store with Rap Snacks chips glued to the shelves, and a video rental shop with a back room housing X-rated items such as blow-up dolls and dildos mounted to the walls, among other spaces.
The only interactive element was a small basketball court with pink spray-painted balls, which is fine if all you wanted to do was a photo shoot. But basking in the florescent light of the main area and eating a scoop of alcoholic ice cream — an extra $10 — it occurred to me that I wasn't immersed in anything. I wasn't even looking at anything interesting, just static pastel elements that offered the illusion of cool when dressed in an Instagram filter. Not even the boozy chocolate-peanut butter ice cream with its gritty, dry texture was satisfying.
Lucky for your wallet, Eye Scream Wasted is closed for the season. No word yet on whether or not it will return.
Sweet Tooth Hotel
The Sweet Tooth Hotel fares slightly better. Creators and husband-and-wife duo Cole and Jencey Keeton commissioned local artists to paint murals, create sculptures and install tactile elements to fit the art spot's new space theme. Their exhibit, called "1955," is the second of this year, following an uber-popular maze of hotel rooms decorated in candy, doughnuts, and other treats that more aptly fit the name Sweet Tooth Hotel.
Though it's visually impressive, "1955" still feels relatively static. There's one hallway with partitioned-off rooms that have been transformed by individual artists. "Astral Diner" features a suspended television attendees can put their heads into for photo ops. They can blow on the wall of pinwheels in another space aptly named "Blow," or tinker with buttons in "Rainbow Rocketship," though they don't actually control anything. The alienlike sculptures in a room called "Astral Pals From Beyond" wobble back and forth, making for the perfect Boomerang video loop. But that's about it.
The experience is similar to visiting an artsy fun house, which is no doubt great for kids. But with just 1,000 square feet of gallery space, I was hard-pressed to spend 30 minutes to justify the $20 ticket price. In 2019, the Sweet Tooth Hotel is planning an expansion, which, hopefully, will offer guests more to do.
Through Dec. 31 at 2316 Victory Park Lane, Dallas. $20. sweettoothhotel.com.
At $35 per person, Psychedelic Robot might be Dallas' priciest immersion spot, but it's also the most worthy of your time and your dime.
Located in the Crescent complex in Uptown, Psychedelic Robot is the only place on this list that lives up to its promise of enveloping attendees in each piece of art and encouraging them to interact beyond looking through the lens of a cellphone camera. Whether it's street art, fine art or Instagram art that suits your fancy, you'll find it here.
Creators Michael and Karen Bivins, another husband-and-wife duo who own Bivins Gallery, also at the Crescent, contracted more than a dozen artists to create different environments throughout Psychedelic Robot's two stories and 12,000 square feet. Kick your feet up in an ethereal living room complete with galaxies painted on the ceiling, walls and floor. And don't worry that the chair warns "do not sit" -- that's part of the irony.
Meander farther and you'll find what looks like an artist's studio covered floor-to-ceiling in spray paint; a room turned modern art piece, decked in bright colors with small pieces of wood dangling from strings; and a wishing tree that invites patrons to write aspirations on index cards and fasten them with pipe cleaners to its many branches. There are several other tactile, photogenic and engaging attractions -- and that's just downstairs.
Upstairs, you'll find more traditional gallery spaces with works hung on stark white walls. There's also a bar selling adult-friendly refreshments to pair with the experience. It's easy to spend an hour or more touring, touching and snapping photos at Psychedelic Robot, which appeals to folks of all ages -- not just Gen Zers looking to up their Instagram game.
Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 21-23 at 500 Crescent Court, Dallas. $35. psychedelicrobot.com.
Holly Jolly Pop-Up
The Holly Jolly Pop-Up is the latest art spot to come on the scene. Located at WAAS Gallery in South Dallas, the pop-up features six rooms decorated with boxes, bows, candy canes and wrapping paper to fit the holiday theme.
While it's cute, it's by no stretch immersive. The Holly Jolly Pop-Up is unabashed Instagram bait, complete with extra lighting in each space and two small ball pits where adults can indulge their inner child and get pictures to prove it.
Still, creator Sabi Shervi maintains there's a message behind each room. The "Presents and Bows" room, for example, has bags mounted on the walls, ribbons hanging from the ceilings and a glowing green light encouraging folks to "be present," while also implying "don't forget to tag us on social media!"
"I want people to feel empowered when they leave here and feel the spirit of the holiday," Shervi says.
Let's not be too dramatic.
It's tough for me to recommend visiting the Holly Jolly Pop-Up when the Gaylord Texan's "Ice!" exhibit is in season in Grapevine for about the same price. Talk about immersive: That installation, which is kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit, literally brings a winter wonderland to life in D-FW. More than 30 Chinese artists carved the exhibit's sculptures and slides out of 2 million pounds of ice -- it's legit art, not a DIY crafting project.
So if you're considering tapping into the trend, it's worth considering what you're looking for. Is it an experience? Or the illusion of one?
Through Jan. 5 at 2790 Logan St., Dallas. $25. hollyjollypopup.com.