Culture Shock Melting Pot

Instagram Curation: How the Social App Is Changing Tourism? | Clarissa Torres

A monstrous, beehive-like structure towers over visitors at the newly renovated Hudson Yards. It’s called The Vessel and it’s New York City’s newest architectural feat. Designed by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, the metal-lined structure is sixteen stories high. I walk past the tower into the adjacent building, seeking help with finding a different work of art. I ask a brunette with a clipboard by the door if she’s heard of Snark Park. She responds, “Oh, that Instagram thing everyone is obsessed with?” That’s the one. She points me to the right direction and wishes me good luck.

The so-called park is actually located inside The Shops at Hudson Yard, an urban mall. The entrance to Snark Park is an ice cream shop that sells overpriced t-shirts, and the line is ten deep with young families and hipster teens alike. The entrance reads “ENTER AND BECOME THE COLORFUL THING.” In their stark white jumpsuits, the attendants add to the monochromatic experience. A coily-haired woman leads us all into a dark room, and directs the group to lose ourselves in the installation. Once inside, we are all allowed to roam the enchanted forest. It’s all white gauzy fringe hanging from the ceiling, Styrofoam pillars, and a lot of mirrors. That’s it.

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The Vessel in New York City. (Photo Credit: Clarissa Torres for the Blue Muse Magazine)

Some pillars have sequins inside them, some have mirrors or balls, but they’re all basically the same thing. After ten minutes of running children and camera flashes, I reach what seems like the end of the installation. Behind me, an older male couple dressed in Brooks Brothers suits say what I’m thinking, “That’s it? This was overpriced and lame.” 

Yet thousands of people have visited the Snark Park installation, designed by the Snarkitecture design practice, since its opening in March. If you look up the location tag, or #snarkparknyc on Instagram, you’ll find thousands of posts on the site—including posts by celebrities like Joe Jonas.

Snark Park is one of many faux-art installations around the world that have become Instagram phenomena. The Vessel, found just outside Snark Park, opened jointly with the installation. The two were built solely to be tourist photo locations in the city. (And to sell overpriced merch.) The two hundred million-dollar structure has no purpose other than to be looked at and photographed. It is another spot that has become popular to post on Instagram, with more than forty thousand posts in its first month.

Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has reached one billion users, the only social app to do so since Facebook. Facebook, by the way, bought the app for one billion bucks in 2012. The steady increase in numbers has made filling up someone’s insta-feed a viable career option for the up-and-coming generation.

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Snark Park in The Shoppes at Hudson Yards. (Photo Credit: Clarissa Torres for the Blue Muse Magazine)

Instagram’s users have given rise to the Instagram model;  a trend that began with celebrities like the Kardashians and has trickled its way down to college students. This job requires pretty and popular girls, sometimes guys (popularity here defined by the number of followers and likes per post), to post captivating pictures while selling products. The occupation has become so accessible that a girl I met at church camp endorses Daniel Wellington watches to her six thousand followers. These models are then paid based on the traffic their posts bring to the vendor’s site, or for purchases using promo codes they share in their photo caption.

In many cases, art installations provide the perfect background for product ads. In an article for the Smithsonian, Emily Matchar calls this epidemic “Instagramization” of the world, and so many are falling into this trend. There has been a cycle of opening and closing “temporary art installations” in New York since 2015. Some installations are seasonal, and some are only open to promote a product or event at a specific time. Beauty and cosmetic companies have also jumped on this trend: newer cosmetic stores in New York are opening with Instagram rooms that visitors can take pictures in after buying their Winky Lux-Flower balm.

Restaurants are picking up the trend as well. In 2019, it’s rare not to see people, whether it’s middle schoolers or construction workers, taking photos of their salads or themselves when they go out to grab a bite. Restaurants have noticed, especially in tourist-heavy cities, that people will visit a restaurant or coffee shop for a Kodak moment. It’s not about the coffee anymore.

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Tacombi on Bleecker Street in New York City. (Photo Credit: Clarissa Torres for the Blue Muse Magazine)

Tacombi, a Mexican Taqueria, has opened multiple locations around New York City. Each location has a different, yet photo-worthy design. Their restaurants have become some of the most Instagrammed eateries in the city. The Bleecker street location is famous for the colorful lettering on the walls—they provide a great background for photos—and the blue-and-white-tiled bar. The bar in this location is what you’ll find most on Instagram. Besides a fly in the water pitcher, the food and the people were great.

I stopped at Tacombi because it was one of few locations that had good ratings on both aesthetics and food. Some of the most popular food spots on Instagram have a staggering amount of poor reviews, but that hasn’t stopped users from going and taking their perfect pictures. Are poor quality restaurants thriving under their aesthetic appeal, while quality restaurants fail for lack thereof?

“Instagram has done a lot of that for us. It’s not something we had in mind.”

Then there are other installations that weren’t necessarily built with Instagram in mind, but have greatly benefited from its popularity. Just a walk down the High Line from Hudson Yards, The Museum of Illusions is one of the fastest-growing trends on Instagram. Usually museums involve a lot of reading placards and nodding at Egyptian relics, but this one is highly interactive, with a variety of light illusions and infinity mirror rooms.

I asked Tracey Johnson, the associate manager at the museum, if Instagram was an influence behind the creation of their museum. “We actually did a lot of advertising through a company, with celebrities and such, leading up to our opening this past September,” she said. “But since October, Instagram has done a lot of that for us. It’s not something we had in mind, but it’s the crowd we’re now attracting.”

In the not too distant future, what society deems as “in” or “out” will completely be controlled by Instagram. Would you go to the coffee shop with okay coffee reviews, but a great pastel pink photo backdrop? Will social media addicts continue to pay thirty bucks to take photos of Styrofoam and mirrors? Is this one future of virtual reality? It’s a dumb trend, and we should think twice before we let ourselves get caught up in it. There’s plenty of free beauty in the world around us. Why don’t we start there?


Headline photo courtesy of Clarissa Torres for Blue Muse Magazine. 

Clarissa Torres is a staff writer for the Blue Muse Magazine.

Blue Muse Magazine is a general interest literary magazine published by the students of the English Department at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut. We publish poetry, fiction, and a gamut of creative nonfiction on anything and everything the blue muse inspires us to write.

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