Inside The Portal, an “Instagram museum” featuring themed rooms designed by local artists

Inside The Portal, an “Instagram museum” featuring themed rooms designed by local artists
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An estimated 200 people per day are stopping by The Portal to snap photos in themed rooms designed by local artists.

The immersive art experience, dubbed an “Instagram museum” for its irresistible photo ops, opened last month in the basement at 114 S. Tryon St.

For $19 you can flaunt fake cash in a bathtub in an old bank vault, perch on a pink chair surrounded by repurposed plastic toys and challenge gravity in a sideways room. Operating hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, and tickets are reserved at 30-minute entry intervals to control the flow of traffic.

The exhibit currently displays work from four featured artists that will be rotated out every few months.

Featured artists include:

  • Michele Hoffman – The room “explores the duality of American consumerism and its relationship to our environment” with walls covered in repurposed iconic plastic toys.
  • HNin Nie – A plant wall flanked by two tiger heads, a neon “FEELS” sign and an illuminated chamber are all you need to create your own glass case of emotion.
  • Jill Seale – Colorful rings create the illusion of a portal to another dimension on the floor. Jump in.
  • Jason Woodberry & Marcus Kiser – Intergalactic Soul “explores a cosmic sci-fi theme that’s driven by social, political and cultural undertones” with a hidden message on the walls. Download the app to translate it.

Yes, artists get paid. Artists are commissioned for their work and are paid according to the budget they set for the buildout of their exhibits. They don’t get a cut of ticket sales.

The experience is casual and self directed. Rainbow stairs will lead you down to a check-in desk where you show your mobile ticket and then are free to roam. There’s no formal queueing process. People just politely wait for others to get out of the way so they can get their shot.

The space is small and built on a budget. From where you check-in at the ticket desk, what you see is pretty much what you get. I found myself peeking around stairwells to see if I missed anything. You likely won’t spend more than an hour in the exhibits.

Don’t stress if you’re flying solo. Or if you and your friends want a shot that includes the whole crew. The employees are available to snap photos for you. They can also offer tips on the best poses and shooting vantage points — teeter on the edge of Seale’s “hole” on the ground, hang from the table in the sideways room, etc.

HNin Nie’s “FEELS” display draws the biggest crowds

Jill Seale’s room creates a 3D illusion of a portal in the floor

This sort of highly visual temporary experience built for Instagram shareability is common in cities like L.A. and New York — perhaps you watched the Kardashians swim in a pool of plastic sprinkles at the Museum of Ice Cream — but Charlotte has been slow to get in on the action.

Next month’s inaugural EmpowerCon, featuring a stacked lineup of inspirational speakers, will include a 40,000 exhibition hall at the Convention Center with photo-worthy “insta”-llations.

And back in May, Nakamura-ke, a traveling glow-in-the-dark ramen pop-up, sold out its 50-plus thirty-minute dinner reservations at Camp North End for $100 a pop.

The Portal’s permanent location and steady stream of visitors marks a shift in Charlotte’s appetite for the experience economy. Whether or not it’s worth it to you comes down to what you value in entertainment. Increasingly, it appears people value playful curated photo ops in a big way.

And much like the feeds we scroll on Instagram, the photo is often cooler than the experience itself. We’ll all post it anyway.

The sideways room plays visual tricks when you rotate your image.

You can also expect a wait at the “I’M RICH” bathtub inside the old bank vault.

What sets The Portal apart in this cheap shot, curated experience economy is its commitment to hiring local artists to build out the displays.

I’m eager to see how to project grows, who else gets involved and what future displays will look like.

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