Snow still blows over Michigan in March, but Detroiters can now enjoy a day at “The Beach,” an art installation designed as a ball pit beach.
“The Beach” is indoors but thematically emulates a real beach, with sloping shorelines, umbrella-shaded lounge chairs, a lifeguard and blow-up beach balls. But instead of water, “The Beach” is filled with 400,000 plastic balls.
Located in the heart of downtown, one can go for a swim at “The Beach” right after ice skating across the street at Campus Martius. It’s free and open to the public, accepting both walk-ins and online reservations.
The exhibit quietly debuted on Friday, Mar. 1 with pictures of Detroiters enjoying “The Beach” hitting Instagram. By Saturday, reservations for a swim were booked for the next two weeks. When I went Sunday afternoon, the line for walk-ins wrapped all around the lobby. Surprisingly, it wasn’t just kids and their parents. Trendy young adults were swimming too, Snapchatting their entire experience.
The artists behind “The Beach,” Alex Mustonen, Daniel Arsham and Ben Porto, are partners at the New York design studio Snarkitecture. The firm is best known for designing unique brick and mortar stores for KITH, a high-end footwear and clothing retailer. Many of their art installations and architecture projects are collaborative, immersive designs, often built within existing spaces or architecture.
“The Beach” debuted in Washington D.C. in 2015 and has since been installed in cities all across the world, including Paris, Sydney and Bangkok. Detroit’s installment was produced in collaboration with Library Street Collective, a Detroit art gallery. The local contemporary art gallery is behind many art installations in Detroit, including the Rainbow City Roller Rink that previously occupied “The Beach”’s space at 1001 Woodward.
A ball pit may conjure up memories of a colorful Chuck E. Cheese nightmare, but “The Beach” is sleek, cool and inviting. A wide open space with mirrors along all the walls make it feel even bigger. It’s lively, but by no means crowded. The plastic balls are recyclable and antimicrobial, so it’s both environmentally friendly and sanitary (as sanitary as a ball pit can be, anyway). Like many of Snarkitecture’s projects, “The Beach” is all-white, including the “shore” and the sea of balls. The only pops of color come from blow-up toys such as a pink flamingo or a striped inner-tube.
Two piers reach out into the pit where swimmers can jump into the pit, and there’s an island in the middle that visitors can swim to. Moving around in the pit is surprisingly difficult. It’s very relaxing to lay immersed in the balls — perhaps even more so than being in the water at a real beach. My 45 minute swim session was mostly spent lounging in the ball pit. Partly because it was so comfortable, partly because I ran out of breath every time I tried to get off my back. Both visually cool and physically soothing, “The Beach” is a unique, fun exhibition.
For modern art appreciators that enjoy an immersive and interactive experience, “The Beach” Detroit will remain open Wednesday to Sunday each week through April 14th — so get your swim in while you can.