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Pop-up review: Fold yourself into LA’s newest Instagram-worthy dumpling-themed exhibit

Dumpling & Associates will be running until March 5 at the ROW DTLA shopping complex. Designed by ZJZM, the goal of the exhibit is to showcase the similarities between humans and dumplings. (Yasmin Madjidi/Daily Bruin staff)

" Dumpling & Associates"

757 S Alameda St.

Los Angeles

By Yasmin Madjidi

Jan. 14, 2020 10:55 p.m.

America’s first-ever dumpling-themed museum steams up Downtown Los Angeles.

Running through March 5, Dumpling & Associates is a trendy pop-up exhibition modeled after an imagined company at the ROW DTLA shopping complex. The interactive installation, designed by ZJZM, features a dumpling jacuzzi, garlic swing and an anti-gravity kitchen. The reception room of the business has a description of its values, which says the goal of the exhibit is to showcase the similarities between humans and dumplings, as both have their own unique “fillings,” with 15 rooms reminding viewers to stay true to themselves and be #AsDumplingAsPossible.

The CEO and founder of Dumpling & Associates is Mr. Dum-bling, which is revealed through a number of bedazzled dumplings scattered throughout the exhibit. The shop follows a fake company to immerse visitors in a new type of work experience, one of self-realization through the lens of dumplings. Although the idea is engaging, it only makes sense in a minority of the rooms. While each section of the faux eatery demonstrates dumpling tradition, from how preparing to cook to serving the food, it eventually becomes rooms of ideal photoshoot backdrops.

[Related: Pop-up review: With mishmash of unrelated exhibits, the Egg House isn’t all it’s cracked up to be]

Beginning with an interview modeled after an order sheet to find out which “associates” – such as garlic or vinegar – the applicants match well with, visitors end up self-declaring their own results. Attendees soon find themselves in the room called Mr. Dum-bling Bling. An homage to the CEO, a giant walk-in mirrored dumpling is the center attraction of this space. Providing a kaleidoscopic effect, the room kicks off a series of Instagram-worthy spots.

Guiding visitors toward the rest of the structure is a hallway of protruding pool noodles designed to resemble a meat grinder. One of the more compelling areas of the museum, Mr. Dum-bling’s fridge, presents the only place in the entire exhibition where the purpose of the visitor’s photo is about the art itself, rather than as a background. The LED lighting and bedazzled dumpling illuminate the food, shifting the attention from quirky poses and optimal social media spots to the true beauty of dumplings.

Hidden behind carved wooden doors, the upside-down kitchen with swirly checkered walls transports dumpling fans into another dimension. The whimsical environment created by the floating pots and stoves makes the kitchen the most intriguing space, as its entire Instagram-worthy vibe is set apart from the rest of the exhibit.

The other rooms are centered around enlarged dumpling-based objects to pose with, while the flipped kitchen area inverts the entire art installation to create an entire subversive experience. While the artistic boundaries of the kitchen are pushed, it is still another ideal spot to boost one’s Instagram game. Even the placards prompt viewers, telling them that each room serves as a great backdrop and to take as many pictures as desired.

This constant reminder to interrupt the exhibit with their phones at the pop-up takes away from not only the art, but also the deeper meaning of Dumpling & Associates itself. Yet, as the rooms are all geared toward the purpose of being photographed, it seems as though the constant distraction is exactly what the designers intended.

The 11th room is the most notable of them all, as a giant dumpling jacuzzi and the “make dumplings, not war” world map both illustrate the true purpose of Dumpling & Associates. The jacuzzi, filled with blue cushioned dumplings, serves as a spot to relax and restore a work-life balance. The opposite wall is a mosaic of dumpling-making tools that form a map of the world to highlight the dumpling’s unifying power.

This room perfectly encapsulates the entire immersive journey with the ideal mixture of picture-perfect scenes and dumpling knowledge. It is also a nod to previous food-based pop-ups such as the iconic Museum of Ice Cream sprinkles pool that also have a heavy focus on optimal photoshoot spots.

[Related: Pop-up review: WonderWorld’s display of whimsy lives up to world down the rabbit hole]

The final room of the exhibit features a black light bathroom with both Western-style and Chinese-style toilets, again attempting to unify cultures through art. A bizarre way to encourage an outlet of emotions, attendees were provided with glow-in-the-dark paint and markers to leave messages, feedback and positive energy as a contribution to the museum.

Concluding with actual dumplings for every guest, the entire experience is lighthearted, fun and delicious. The balance of art and dumpling history, alongside captivating scenes for social media, creates a marvelous experience for guests. Sharing a love of dumplings and encouraging social unity through the pop-up has proven to be a success as visitors leave remembering to be #AsDumplingAsPossible.

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Yasmin Madjidi | Alumna
Madjidi served as the Lifestyle editor at the Daily Bruin from 2020-2021. She was previously an Arts & Entertainment contributor from 2019-2020.
Madjidi served as the Lifestyle editor at the Daily Bruin from 2020-2021. She was previously an Arts & Entertainment contributor from 2019-2020.
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