The Museum of Ice Cream sounds unreal because it is. The all-American, Insta-friendly pop-up eschews every trait of its institutional namesake. In this travelling show, there are no public exhibits chronicling the development of waffle cones, no freezer rooms with recreations of ancient chilled delicacies. You will not find a single plaque detailing the etymology of ‘ice cream’ (for your reference, it derives from the earlier ‘iced cream’ or ‘creamed ice,’ and versions were consumed in Athenian markets as far back as the fifth century BCE, where snow was mixed with honey and fruit).
No, the Museum of Ice Cream is not an ordinary museum. Much of its appeal for audiences—in Los Angeles, in New York—is the impermanence. It is there until it is not. You can purchase a ticket until you can’t. When it opened in Miami during last week’s Art Basel, its doors were flanked with millennial pink palm trees; on entry, we were given champagne. In the first room—the museum is split into many themed ‘installation’ spaces, each loosely designed around selfies, free ice cream and a specific shade of candied pink—we ate cool morsels of the stuff heaped into tiny cups and topped with whipped cream; hired hype dancers waltzed around us. In the rooms that followed, well-heeled adults swung on gargantuan bananas suspended from the ceiling, while their friends took Boomerang videos. People got on all fours and clambered, grinning, into small passageways lined with reflective silver coconuts; they ran their hands through pits of kinetic sand tinted to look like Pantone’s Paradise.
In other cities, the museum’s magnum opus has been a rainbow sprinkle pool—it was there in Miami too, filled with 100 million inedible plastic nodes, and I watched model Karolina Kurkova take selfies with her son in it for probably too long, until I realised and abruptly left the room—but the real highlight of this outpost was something much quieter. It sat on a plinth, surrounded by Perspex, right next to the gift shop’s register: a two-piece collaboration with accessories brand Miansai. There was a simple, gold-plated sterling silver cuff and a gold-plated necklace with a small, saccharine pendant at the end—a palm tree surrounded by a pool of pink enamel.
Miansai’s minimalist, pared-back wares are available in 36 countries. Its flagships are in New York’s SoHo and at Venice Beach; by the end of this year there will be ten roaming mobile boutiques, too. But the label is quintessentially Miami. It began there in 2008, when its founder Michael Saiger was studying at the University of Miami, and made himself a bracelet from cord and an empty bullet case that he fashioned together in his dorm room. Pretty soon, the marketing major was selling replicas to friends, then filling orders at local menswear stores. After college, it was the big guys—Barneys and Bergdorf’s. (Miansai is now something of an accessories empire; they’ve expanded to fine jewellery, leather bags, belts and dry goods.)
Saiger is originally from New York, but chose to make balmier climes home: he resides in Miami with Rachael Russell, the brand’s fashion director (she is also, more recently, his wife, and the one who initially met the Museum of Ice Cream director, sparking the idea for a collaboration). Since early 2009 his factory has been in a large warehouse complex in Wynwood. Before the ice cream party, he took me on a tour of it.
Some context: I’d just got off the plane and Miami was deep in Basel busyness—cabs were stacked bumper-to-bumper like Lego blocks—and it was nice, as the sun began to disappear, to be ushered into somewhere less manic, rooms filled with elegant objects-in-progress. Almost everything related to Miansai production happens in this building, which is—for a business this size—quite unusual. Here, they do CAD drawings, 3D printed prototypes, wax injections, casting, purification of imperfections, high-lustre polishing, assemblage, plating, oxidation, packaging, social media, and campaign photography, marketing.
“Anyone I worked with downtown [when the label first started] in the jewellery district, I’ve then hired in-house,” Saiger said as we watch the plating of a sample piece of metal, machinery whirring around us. “Anyone that’s worked with us from the beginning we’ve brought in.” There are some 40 staff here now. One guy gave me a demonstration of different bits of machinery; his fingernails looked like my dad’s, who is a car mechanic. The thing about jewellery—especially clean-lined, understated tokens like Miansai’s—is that it takes infinite attempts to perfect the many processes. It’s pure and unblemished and pleasing at the end, but at one point, everything looked pretty messy. In that way, it’s a lot like a cherry-topped sundae.
The Miansai x Museum of Ice Cream Capsule Collection was launched during Art Basel Miami Beach. It features the Palm Tree Necklace, retailing at $165 and Screw Cuff at $225. Outside of the Miami museum, it will be available exclusively at the Museum of Ice Cream’s San Francisco location and online.
Photos from the Museum of Ice Cream courtesy of Katie Gibbs