How Do You Open an Interactive Museum in a Pandemic? Very Carefully

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

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.

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

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