New York’s first Makeup Museum, an immersive, interactive concept focusing on touch and experimentation, was slated to open in May. Its premiere exhibition, “Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America,” would encourage visitors to take part in experiences like mixing their own makeup or indulging in facials modeled on the ones given to Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo. Artifacts of that halcyon era, like elaborate compacts or rhinestone-studded lipstick cases, would be available for handling.
Then the pandemic hit.
All museums closed, of course, and have only recently started to reopen, with many new restrictions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, which reopened in late August, only takes timed tickets or reservations and requires masks and temperature checks. An interactive makeup museum, however, devoted to the idea of applying products to one’s face, seemed like another challenge to figure out altogether.
But on Tuesday, the Makeup Museum finally opened to the public after a complete rethink of the place. Sampling colors and handling objects were replaced with social distancing rules, enhanced technology and mask requirements. In addition to the usual creative demands of mounting an exhibit, the curators faced “so much uncertainty, so many more logistical challenges,” said Doreen Bloch, a museum co-founder.
The presentation of “Pink Jungle” was completely overhauled. Gone were any tactile elements that could not be immediately sanitized and the prop-heavy, Instagram-worthy photo stations that have become the hallmark of other new interactive museums like the Museum of Ice Cream and the KGB Espionage Museum. The “Mix Lab,” an interactive station where guests could create their own take-home beauty elixirs, was scrapped and the exhibition is now “an entirely touchless experience,” Ms. Bloch said
The thrust and look of the show, which focuses on the influence of the post-World War II era, with its red lips and signature cat eyes, remains the same. “The innovation of the 1950s really set the course for where makeup is today,” Ms. Bloch said.
But curators also realized, partly because of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, that they needed to highlight the “tension,” Ms. Block explained, between nostalgia for a glamorous era and the reality that it was “very Eurocentric, very white-centric, very heteronormative.”
As such, the museum is displaying vintage copies of Jet magazine, which spoke specifically to Black women, but offered problematic advertisements for skin-lightening creams and other products that centered on the beauty ideal of whiteness. A copy of a 1954 book called Femme Mimics: A Pictorial Record of Female Impersonation, offers a rare inside look at drag in an era when just wearing the clothing of the opposite sex was often still illegal.
Regarding other objects in the exhibition, like eyeliner tools, hair dryers, and lipstick cases that show the evolution of packaging and equipment, curators met via FaceTime this summer to discuss how to reconfigure socially distanced display cases, wall mountings and demonstration tables. Touch screens to guide visitors through the show were replaced with an interactive phone app, which is also a way to visit the museum remotely.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated September 1, 2020
Why is it safer to spend time together outside?
- Outdoor gatherings lower risk because wind disperses viral droplets, and sunlight can kill some of the virus. Open spaces prevent the virus from building up in concentrated amounts and being inhaled, which can happen when infected people exhale in a confined space for long stretches of time, said Dr. Julian W. Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- In the beginning, the coronavirus seemed like it was primarily a respiratory illness — many patients had fever and chills, were weak and tired, and coughed a lot, though some people don’t show many symptoms at all. Those who seemed sickest had pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome and received supplemental oxygen. By now, doctors have identified many more symptoms and syndromes. In April, the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed. Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on their fingers and toes — nicknamed “Covid toe” — but few other serious symptoms.
Why does standing six feet away from others help?
- The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using that measure, bases its recommendation of six feet on the idea that most large droplets that people expel when they cough or sneeze will fall to the ground within six feet. But six feet has never been a magic number that guarantees complete protection. Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study. It’s a rule of thumb: You should be safest standing six feet apart outside, especially when it’s windy. But keep a mask on at all times, even when you think you’re far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
Ms. Bloch said that not opening the Makeup Museum was never an option. “Everyone was so unanimous that the community wants and needs this,” she said. “So many people have been just so face-to-face with technology every day, that there is this craving for just being in that holy space that is a museum.”
And even though the museum is leaning heavily on technology to ensure a safe visit, it still offers an “analog” world, Ms. Bloch said.
“Museums just have an ability to hone our attention and allow us to focus on items or stories that matter and tell history in a really profound way,” she continued. “That’s never been done before for beauty.”
The Makeup Museum is at 94 Gansevoort Street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. For more information, visit makeupmuseum.com.