In the early 2010s, the smartphone was beginning to earn its name. Functionality expanded rapidly as everything became an application downloadable from centralized stores, a spirit captured in Apple’s iconic “There’s An App For That” advertisements. At the same time as smartphones accelerated the ease and speed of socializing online, one communication tool became ubiquitous across Reddit message boards, group chats, and Twitter threads: the meme.
Indeed, “There’s a Meme For That” would make an equally compelling title for Meme Museum, an immersive pop-up exhibition currently being staged at Hong Kong’s K11 Art Mall.
What’s Meme Museum?
A three-month long exhibition created by K11 in partnership with online social platform 9GAG. Heralded as the world’s first physical meme show, it explores this ironic and irreverent visual language through more than 100 memes spread across seven themed areas.
Visitors can educate themselves on the history of memes through “In The Meme Time” as well as their enduring presence at “Meme-Go-Round,” receive a meme tattoo at “Memingful,” and watch memes come to life through the use of augmented reality. 9GAG also used the occasion to release its first NFT, “In Meme We Love,” which sold on Foundation for 9 ETH ($29,000) in mid-July.
What is K11?
A chain of retail complexes centered on integrating art, shopping, and immersive experiences. Originating in Hong Kong in 2008, K11 has expanded rapidly across Mainland China opening outlets in major cities including Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Wuhan. Its latest venture, K11 Musea, which opened on Kowloon’s waterfront in 2019, includes abundant contemporary art, an amphitheater, a rooftop sculpture park, and its own artists club.
What is 9GAG?
A Hong-Kong-based social media website (and app) that promotes user-generated content. It claims a global audience of 180 million and is world home to one of the internet’s largest meme communities.
Why it matters
K11’s pioneering culture-meets-commerce model has long proven adept at drawing young urban audiences (post-’90s and post-’00s consumers in China parlance). To continue connecting once lockdowns and public health concerns hampered its physical business model, the group ramped up social media presence and expanded its K11 Go app, through which it offers e-commerce services and a range of art, design, and cooking classes as well as virtual art tours.
Its first major offline venture since fully reopening is equally in-sync with its target audience. Partnering with 9GAG lends K11 credibility and the ability to speak to visitors playfully and in their own vernacular. The show itself is fun (there’s a meme photo booth), immersive (one section connects memes with fragrances), and photogenic (think neon pink lighting and clean gray/white backdrops) — all qualities in demand with young visitors.
The broader context is that the lines between art, entertainment, and popular culture continue to blur. New York’s Museum of Ice Cream in some ways signaled the arrival of this phenomenon back in 2016, but it’s continued to grow as shown by teamLab’s ever-expanding operations, the numerous Van Gogh and Monet immersive exhibitions being created, and the push from major film IP holders to stage shows. Meme Museum may only be showing through September, but its kind are here for good.
What they said
“In short, we are MEMEs, and MEMEs are us. In Hong Kong’s first-ever MEME exhibition, K11 Art Mall collaborates with 9GAG to take you on a cultural MEME journey that unfolds its evolution. It’s the internet brought to real life.” — K11 and 9GAG