RCL Exclusive

Candytopia: Selfie-Art Scene More Wonky Than Wonka

Los Angeles continues trend of delicious pop-ups for the Instagram crowd.

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It’s hard to go out anywhere these days without the experience being tainted by the (literal) flashmob of the Instagram generation. Restaurants? Might as well order in unless you want your meal ruined by tables full of patrons refusing to touch their plates till they get the perfect shot. (This goes double for brunch.) Lakes? Mountains? Outside…in general? Good luck with that. Galleries and museums? Ha, try telling that to the Mona Lisa.

Thank goodness then that the coastal cities are finding a way to wrangle some of Lo-Fi/Valencia/Hefe filter crowds to at least gather in specific locations. From the Museum of Ice Cream to the Happy Place Museum Refinery29’s 29 Rooms installation (which just opened an LA location after the success of the brand’s New York exhibition). Tayor Swift is opening up a West Coast version of her popular New York “Reputation” pop-up, where Swifties swarmed to take selfies inside the “immersive experience.”

Yes, you can decry these operations as cynical cash-grabs, meant to make money by charging people (usually very young people, chaperoned by weary parents) to walk through a bunch of installations and take photos. Often (if not always), there’s a gift shop at the end of the self-guided tours to purchase mementos and treats to remind you of the time you went somewhere to take pictures next to things.

Side-note: A really easy way to tell if an event fits the criteria of a pop-up like the one I’m describing is to see if their press materials mention any combination of the words “immersive” “interactive,” “experience” and “Instagram.”

A portrait of Willy Wonka, made from candy (or candy substitute).

So I approached—Candytopia, the new Wonka-esque pop-up currently housed in LA Hanger Studios— with a grain of salt when I arrived on a cool Friday in December. The first thing I noticed wasn’t the cavernous main room’s decorations (which included a steam-punk archway and sugary quotes adorning the walls, along with a Candytopia-branded red carpet) but the people attending the press review themselves: 90 percent of them were young children, which made me think I was judging these institutions too harshly. Maybe Candytopia was for some…just not an old, jaded hipster like me.

 Now, if you’re wondering the brainchild behind Candytopia, the press materials can explain its vision  better than I could, so here we go:

What if an eccentric chocolatier and a daredevil pop star had a whirlwind romance, got married while skydiving, and had a glamorous, glittering love child who grew up to rule a small nation?  Welcome to Candytopia, where colossal candyfloss constructions meld with a tantalizing taffy twistedness!

Explore our sprawling sanctuary of confectionary bliss, tastefully curated by Hollywood Candy Queen Jackie Sorkin and realized by master fabricator Zac Har. This three-month interactive art installation celebrates the vibrant colors and flavors of our favorite sugary delights across over a dozen environments, from flying unicorn pigs to a marshmallow tsunami. Bring your family, your friends, and your sweet tooth for an experience like none other!

I did not know who Jackie Sorkin was, and the first room of the exibit—a library where we gazed upon the smiling, colorful visage of the woman behind Candytopia while each being given a piece of Lindor chocolate from the resident librarian (dressed like a scientist).

Sorkin’s website for her company Hollywood Candy Girls, was a little more illuminating but raised as many questions as it answered.

Jackie Sorkin is Hollywood’s resident “Candy Girl” and CEO of The Hollywood Candy Girls INC. She is best known for her role as star of TLC’s Sugary Show, Candy Queen!

Today, Jackie’s quirky, creative, Willy Wonka-esque business have earned her fans from all around the globe who all have one thing in common… a love of all things S-U-G-A-R! Jackie’s bubbly and super energetic personality drive her desire to create supremely sweet experiences for all kinds of events. These qualities, together with Jackie’s respect for her clients privacy, have made her a popular event planning choice for celebrities as well as high profile corporations and private clients.

Yes, nothing says “Willy Wonka” than “event planning for celebrities.” But moving on.

The rooms themselves never quite gave me the sense that we were in anything other than a storage locker for planes with some party-store decorations. There was a beach party “room” where you got cotton candy; another, an art gallery where all the pieces were replicas of famous paintings made out of candy. (Or materials that looked like candy, anyway.)

Then there was the room that seemingly had no theme, but which I began to think of as “The Sadness Factory”:


Thank goodness the last two rooms of Candytopia semi-salvaged what was a subpar experience in terms of the candy, to say nothing of the aesthetic.  (Besides the cotton candy and the Linden, the only other treats were candy bracelets and a bag of marshmallows at the very end of the tour.) The “psychedelic pigs farting confetti room” was definitely a trip highlight for me, personally.


And then, the final and by far best room of Candytopia: the giant marshmallow pit. This is where the majority of time was spent by every member of our tour, probably because it was the only space designed for both play and picture-taking. I was very happy in the marshmallow pit.

And that was it: you were led out, your sweet tooth tickled instead of quenched, to the shopping area, which had more effort and design put into it than the rest of the rooms combined. Many of the products were Hollywood Candy Girls-branded, but that’s no knock on Sorkin: candy capitalism is a viable economic model, as far as I’m concerned.

Now, there’s a catch to penning in all these millennials into pop-up installation spaces; namely, they are in danger of being shuttered before they even have the chance to open their gates. Happy Place in Downtown LA was shut down earlier this month because it lacked the necessary permits; for the same reason, Candytopia had to delay its grand opening from December 15th till sometime in 2018.

Hopefully, the candy will keep over the next few months. But if not, rest assured that the trend of Instagram-able art is not going anywhere.

All photo credits: Richard Alexander.