Find Nostalgia at the ’90s Experience
A Jack London Square pop-up museum, the ’90s Experience, celebrates the good times of the dopest decade.
Photo courtesy The '90s Experience
When was the last time you saw a Beanie Baby? A 3½-inch floppy disc? A Boyz II Men poster? A pager?
You can gaze upon all those artifacts and more at the ’90s Experience, a pop-up museum at Jack London Square where visitors can “see, smell, hear, taste and touch the dopest decade.”
Yes, that’s right. The ’90s have officially entered the realm of nostalgia, that rosy prism in which we forget the boring and awful and dwell only upon the good times. And the ’90s had plenty of those.
“The ’90s were all about love,” said museum co-founder Ky Truong, a former digital media producer who grew up in the final decade of the 20th century in San Leandro. “I know it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, there were scandals and wars like every decade, but I think of the ’90s as a time of hope. And if people can re-experience that feeling, remember the good times, maybe we can keep all that positive energy flowing today.”
Truong and his colleagues opened the ’90s Experience early this summer, with plans to close by Labor Day. But the museum has been so popular, they’ve extended it through Jan. 1, culminating — of course — with a Y2K New Year’s Eve party.
The ’90s Experience isn’t a museum in the traditional sense, with priceless objet d’art. It’s more like the Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco or the Color Factory in Los Angeles — essentially a collection of kitschy and colorful photo backdrops for Instagram. Each exhibit conjures a pop culture element of the decade: the orange couch from Friends, a Titanic poster, murals depicting the Tupac and Biggie Smalls rivalry, a replica throne from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Interspersed are countless references to ’90s ephemera: Pulp Fiction, Salt-N-Pepa, Selena, and — this visitor’s personal favorite — a poster from the 1993 Hip-Hop on the Green at the Oakland Estuary, sponsored by KMEL.
One wall is adorned entirely with glittering, iridescent compact discs. Another exhibit re-creates the album cover from Nirvana’s Nevermind, complete with the floating dollar bill. Visitors can pose as the swimming baby.
A particularly clever exhibit pays homage to the pager. Visitors can use magnetic, digitally stylized numbers to spell the words and codes pager-users used to send to friends, in the days before text messages. 143, for example, means “I love you.” 43110 was “hello.”
Truong and his colleagues scoured eBay for many of the objects in the museum and hired more than 20 local artists to create the exhibits. What you won’t find are political references — Monica Lewinsky is not represented. Nor is Dan Quayle, Socks the cat, or Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America.
You will find a bright and upbeat 6,000-square-foot montage of pastels and quirky geometric shapes, set to a bouncy soundtrack of Billy Ray Cyrus and the Backstreet Boys, with a smattering of Green Day and Run DMC. It’s the ’90s as remembered by teenagers and kids of the era, a return to the carefree days before 9/11, climate crises, smartphones, ultra-violent video games, our current political strife, and adulthood.
That was enough to please Karen Durando of Rohnert Park and Sandra Echavarria of Windsor, teachers who drove from the North Bay on a recent weekday to visit the museum.
“It was like reliving my childhood,” said Durando, who was in high school in the ’90s. “Definitely the Friends part. I watched a lot of Friends in those days. And I played a lot of Super Mario.”
Their only complaint, actually, was that the museum was too small.
“There wasn’t enough,” said Echavarria. “I want more ’90s.”
A prominent feature of the museum is a timeline of the decade, starting with MC Hammer’s release of “U Can’t Touch This” in 1990 and ending with the debut of SpongeBob in 1999. Buried somewhere between Beavis and Butt-Head and the Spice Girls is the birth of the Internet.
Ontanae Millett, a museum guide (official title: “cast member”), was born in 1994 but understands the appeal of the era and why so many are drawn to the museum.
“It seems like in the ’90s people were out and loud and in your face. It was uncensored,” she said. “I think of it as a liberating time. People just seemed happy. … A lot happier than people are now.
“And the music was great.”
The ’90s Experience is at 54 Washington St., Oakland. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $32. Child (age 4-10) tickets are $20. Available for special events. ExperienceThe90s.com