Arts Catch These Quirky Pop-Up Museums Before They’re Gone

by Ari Bendersky | November 14, 2018

Image courtesy of Color Factory Museum

Offbeat, adventurous, immersive and fun, pop-up museums are gaining popularity in cities across America.

These temporary exhibitions typically strike a less formal tone than established institutions with permanent collections, playfully approaching subjects ranging from fashion to food to photography — usually through a pop-culture lens. And have your cameras ready, because these museums are designed with selfies and social media sharing in mind.

Here are seven dazzlingly innovative pop-up museums you absolutely must visit … before they’re gone.

U.S. Pizza Museum

1146 South Delano Court West / Chicago, IL

This show covers a thick slice of American pizza history through a display of rare menus, vintage pizza boxes, toys, games, vinyl records, an original coal-fired oven and surprising artifacts from when a certain clown-mascoted fast-food chain dabbled in pizza in the '80s. Created by pizza devotee Kendall Bruns — the man has followed "best of" lists to eat pies from New York to Phoenix and everywhere in between — the U.S. Pizza Museum and its eclectic collection have been popping up in temporary spaces since 2016.

“When you visit the U.S. Pizza Museum, you’re going to learn about the history of pizza throughout the United States and how different types of ovens and food cultures led to different regional interpretations of pizza,” Bruns says. “My hope is people come away with a new appreciation of America’s favorite food and a realization there’s a lot more to learn about it.”

Not surprisingly, you may work up a strong desire to devour some pizza after visiting. While the museum doesn't offer any pie, several iconic Chicago pizza restaurants are located mere minutes away.

wall of the gift shop of the pizza museum showcasing t-shirts and knick-knacks for sale

Image courtesy of U.S. Pizza Museum

Color Factory

251 Spring Street / New York, NY

Launched in San Francisco in 2017, the Color Factory — a riot of color-splashed rooms with immersive displays like ball pits and walls draped in ribbons — was only meant to last one month. However, the growing crowds couldn't get enough of the colorful creativity, and the pop-up extended its run to eight months.

It has since crossed the country for an appearance in New York’s SoHo neighborhood where it will remain through the end of November 2018 (with the possibility of an extension). Step inside the 20,000-square-foot space and explore color as inspired by the city and displayed in unexpected ways to inspire curiosity, discovery and play.

Among the 16 distinct installations are happiness-boosting interactive experiences with floating balloons, a disco-inspired luminous dance floor and, of course, Color Factory’s signature ballroom — all of which immerses visitors in a bright, vibrant and beguiling world. Go find your favorite color.


767 Market Street / San Francisco, CA (through November 30)
145 West 32nd Street / New York, NY (through January 6)

This 20,000-square-foot sweet-centric extravaganza is paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth. Which is…basically everyone, right?

“Candytopia transports guests to an outrageously interactive candy wonderland with one-of-a-kind full sensory experiences that allow people of all ages to escape from reality and embrace their inner kid,” says John Goodman, Candytopia CEO and co-founder. Expect to find flying unicorn pigs (remember: this is an anything-is-possible place), a massive marshmallow pit and candy-covered yellow taxis, sharks and carousels.

To make the visit truly immersive, visitors are invited to taste samples of sour candies, gummy treats and chocolate throughout the experience. Candytopia is currently exhibiting in New York and San Francisco, but watch for future cities to be announced soon.

yellow taxi cab made out of candy against a brick wall at the Candytopia museum

Image courtesy of Joel Pitra

wndr museum

1130 West Monroe Street / Chicago, IL

Opened August 2018, the wndr museum — a new art and science pop-up experience co-created by Groupon and Chicago Ideas co-founder Brad Keywell — lives up to its promise to be a place where beauty and imagination meet. Upon entering, guests are encouraged to check out of daily life and in to a wondrous landscape of color, light and reflection.

“We believe wndr museum challenges the definition of 'museum,’ perhaps raising the bar to define museums as immersive and fun, yet grounded in substance, with each experiential piece reflecting the interplay of beauty, science and wonder,” says Molly Vaile of the wndr museum.

Experience a presentation of world-renowned artist Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room, a zero-gravity ball pit and disco-styled bathrooms alongside a dozen other installations. “At wndr guests interact with the art and with each other, and our hope is that we are the rare experience that truly opens your mind to a sense of possibility,” Vaile adds.

young girl in black jumpsuit walking through a room covered in iridescent shapes

Image courtesy of wndr museum

Factory Obscura Beyond

1522 South Robinson Avenue / Oklahoma City, OK

Remember how much you loved those "choose your own adventure" books as a kid? This is the interactive-art adult version. Created by a collective comprising five co-founders and 25 artists, Factory Obscura’s Beyond sets all visitors up on a journey with a tarot card that instructs you to pass through one of four doors based on the themes of creativity, illusion, awakening or transformation.

From there you are encouraged to explore, touch and interact with the art found within the rooms you enter. Inspired by themes of creativity, illusion, transformation and awakening, the art comes alive and diverges from what you may expect at a traditional museum. Guests journey through different realms that evoke the cosmos or subterranean foreign lands exploding with light, color and objects comprising various materials where everything is designed for interaction.

“You don't know what you don't know about this place until you see it,” says Factory Obscura co-founder Kelsey Karper. “And even then you still can't describe it, but you keep coming back to experience it.” Make your plans now, though — Factory Obscura is currently open only through December 21, 2018.

graphics of eyes on a purple toned floor

Image courtesy of Justice Smithers

FOMO Factory

720 Red River Street / Austin, TX

Fear of missing out — you know, FOMO — gets right to the essence of these trend-setting pop-up experiences. No surprise, then, that they have quickly become the darlings of social media feeds. And that makes the FOMO Factory aptly named: Nestled among a bevy of bars in downtown Austin and set in a storefront, the two-floor, 4,000-square-foot FOMO Factory plunges visitors into eight sense-delighting, childhood-themed spaces encompassing 5,000 plastic balls, swings, a giant cake, a two-story sandcastle and overflowing bubble bath.

“Our childhood theme is one that is universal, we all had a childhood,” FOMO Factory founder Rachel Youens explains. “If it was good, we offer you the chance to relive it. If it was bad, we offer you the chance to recreate it.” Apparently, you can turn back time — well, until the show's end date of December 30, 2018.


167 NW 25th Street / Miami, FL

Perhaps the most closely aligned with museums as we know them is Fearless Artist Media's annual weeklong TFAPOPUP gallery at Art Basel Miami/Miami Art Week, which is a showcase for emerging and established contemporary artists from around the world. Through nightly events, programs and, of course, parties, TFAPOPUP's 2018 theme of "empathy, compassion, respect" puts a spotlight on the featured art as a catalyst for community service. Artists of various backgrounds showcase works in an open loft-like setting, allowing the visitor to check out an array of paintings, sculpture, photography and more.

“Our message is universal and both aspirational and relatable," says Fearless Artist CEO and founder Kiki Somerville. "We love art, artists, and art lovers and we do this for the people,” informs Somerville.

Artwork of red type on a red background that repeats the phrase "Love is a risk. Do it Anyway"

Image courtesy of TFAPOPUP

And, in fact, over the past five years, many of the event’s 165 featured artists have used TFAPOPUP as a springboard to gain wider recognition, team with brands for future work and enjoy larger success. Stop by the pop-up December 4 through 9 to mingle with collectors while you search for that cutting-edge piece of art for your own collection.

Ari Bendersky

is considering a nationwide pop-up tour to step up his selfie game. The Chicago native has written for the New York Times, WSJ magazine, Men's Journal, Departures, Wine Enthusiast and Crain's Chicago Business.