Sorry, But The MoMA 'Rain Room' Exhibit Is Not Worth The Wait

MoMA rain room installation

A couple of weekends ago, I decided to see what the fuss was about and go to the “Rain Room” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.

The exhibit, in which visitors can walk through falling water without getting wet, is supposed to give visitors the feeling of “controlling the rain.” It’s received a huge amount of hype this summer, with lines running three and four hours (and longer) to get in.

I’m a museum member, so I thought I would be able to take advantage of extended member hours, which start before the museum opens to the public. I arrived at the entrance to the Rain Room, which is in a separate building from the actual museum, at 9:00 a.m., 30 minutes before the member hours started.

What I found was a line around the block, made up entirely of MoMA members.  

Having already gotten out of bed early on a Sunday, I decided to stick it out. I ended up waiting for more than three hours in the increasingly hot summer sun. I was told that this was on the low end of the wait: Some said they had stood outside for five hours or more. MoMA staff members were nice enough to distribute umbrellas for the sun, and also had water and soda for sale by the line.

By the time I actually got inside the building, I was tired, hot, and looking forward to walking around the cool Rain Room. However, once I got inside the building, there was still more line! There were another 30 or 40 people in front of me, but at least at that point I could see the actual Rain Room. Seeing the exhibit was a double-edged sword, though, because I still had to wait to enter, knowing that each person in there (and everyone in front of you) had to get in and then leave.

When I was next in line, I was informed by a staff member that I had to be careful about how quickly I walked, because if I went too fast the sensors would not be able to pick me up, and I would get rained on. I was also advised that the “recommended” time in the room was 10 minutes, though you are allowed to stay as long as you would like.  

The exhibit space is probably about 40 square feet, and as soon as I walked in, I got wet. After slowing down to the appropriate pace, which was about that of a leisurely walk, I was able to experience the sensation of walking around in the rain without getting wet. It was an interesting sensation, and a cool concept, but I don’t think I’d wait more than 30 minutes for the experience.  

The area of rain was so small that even with only 10 people allowed in at a time, it was never really raining enough to get the magical feeling of standing dry in a storm. It seemed like half of the system was off at any given moment, because each person created a three-foot ring of dryness around them.  

I left after less than 10 minutes.There’s only so much one can do in a room while trying not to get wet, and I felt terrible for the other people still outside in line. I couldn’t warn them, though, because the exit sent me a block away from the line.

If the actual area of rain were about twice the size, and the sensors were more attuned to the normal pace of human movement, the exhibit would have been a lot more interesting, and I might not have minded waiting for the experience (although it still would not have been worth a three-hour wait).

With the lines the way the are now, you are better off going for a walk with an umbrella next time it rains.

Editor’s note: In response to high demand, the museum recently instituted a “viewing only” line. The exhibit runs through July 28; additional information is available on MoMA’s website.

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