Changing trends: pop ups

Vision.ae examines the growing phenomenon of pop ups – from food outlets and retail stores to mobile art galleries – to find out the reasons behind their success

Pop ups are popping up everywhere. As high street stores in many western cities close, blighted by business models that just don’t add up anymore, the here today, gone tomorrow pop up is on the rise. And while internet shopping has dealt a major blow to traditional retail, the online world of social media is playing a key role in driving the phenomenon.

“The growth of short-term retail is directly related to the success of various social media trends,” says Jonathan Daou, founder of Openhouse, which has been organising pop-up stores, galleries and events in New York since 2007. “You could describe a pop up as the retail world’s equivalent to a tweet. I always say to my clients: ‘Main Street is not a physical place anymore, Main Street is on your phone’.”

Openhouse’s client list reads like a who’s who of global brands: Audi, Converse, Diesel, Google, Microsoft, Pepsi – all these and many more have turned to the company to host pop ups. So what’s the appeal? “Pop ups are an integral tool for 'buzz' generation,” says Daou. “A pop up almost always escapes the critical scrutiny from clients and press that a long-term store or flagship would. It’s accepted as an experimental environment for more stimulating, and potentially less logical or functional, purposes.”

It’s not just brands and the retail sector that have embraced the pop-up approach. Cash-strapped artists worldwide were utilising free, disused spaces to show their work long before the term ‘social media’ – or ‘pop up’ for that matter – had been coined. Now, short-run exhibitions in non-gallery spaces are part of the mainstream contemporary art landscape.

This year’s Art Dubai (20-23 March), an international art fair for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, has its own twist on the idea with the Mobile Art Gallery (MAG), presented by Dubai-based curators Isabella Ellaheh Hughes and Angelle Siyang-Le. “It [the pop up approach] undeniably adds an element of fun and unpredictability; this is a young project, featuring emerging artists,” says Hughes. “There have been quite a few pop ups before in Dubai and there’s certainly room for more, but MAG is the first actual mobile art gallery, taking place on wheels in a moving truck.”

MAG will be appearing fleetingly throughout Art Dubai, as will the dXb store, a specially-designed pop-up space showcasing the work of Dubai-based designers and artists, which will also be at the artist-led SIKKA fair (14-24 March) and Design Days Dubai (18-21 March). Blink, then, and you may miss it. And that, of course, is the point of the pop up. As Jonathan Daou puts it: “A pop up can end gracefully. When a store closes, it's sad for everyone. When a pop up closes, it was planned.”