“Meow wolf.” If you’d said it out loud a decade ago, you probably would’ve gotten a lot of worried looks from family and friends.
But today, this Santa Fe, New Mexico-based artist collective has become a well-known creator in the themed entertainment design space with three permanent art installations spread across the American West. Meow Wolf’s three explorable installations – The house of eternal return, OmegaMartand convergence station – are fully immersive, explorable environments; potential puzzles with discoverable backstories and rich lore; Funky, artistic, homemade, artist-led, locally sourced, completely original universes designed for visitors to get lost, climb, slide, dance, relax, feel and try something new.
Founded in 2008 as an artist collective led by Matt King, Meow Wolf had hopes of filling Santa Fe with alternative art and eventually building a music venue. (If it sounds like they accidentally pulled two words out of a hat to form their name, that’s because that’s exactly what happened.) Several high-profile art installations and shows (like the 2011 cityscape “Glitteropolis.” , the 2012 fake grocery store OmegaMart, and the 2013 Chicago cave installation Nucleotide) set the stage for Meow Wolf’s first continuous Installation. And here begins our tour…
But be warned: so much of Meow Wolf’s three permanent installations needs to be experienced to be understood, and some of the quieter nooks and hidden spaces in each are best left untouched… So if you intend to visit any of these places, we would advise you to proceed cautiously and avoid videos or walkthroughs of the experience. If you do Carry on in this feature, just know that we will be sharing images of popular and well-documented aspects of each site and exploring their basic stories and regions, but leaving much to the imagination…
House of Eternal Return (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation is in Santa Fe, the collective’s hometown. A fairly continuous refrain you’ll hear about the New Mexican Meow Wolf website is that it really is the “Disneyland” of its genre – the first. Quite literally setting the standards of the “immersive art experience” that has since been duplicated many times in increasingly sophisticated forms, so much of that first Meow Wolf is almost charmingly understated and naïve.
For example, you could walk right through the Cerrillos Road business corridor in Santa Fe without even knowing that there is a destination for themed entertainment fans there. There is no such thing as a giant, upside-down WonderWorks mansion. Instead, this first Meow Wolf is found in an abandoned bowling alley (partially secured by a $2.7 million pledge from George RR Martin – author of the Song of Ice and Fire Fantasy series that has been adapted game of Thrones) from the main street. (The attraction’s sign even serves that of the former resident — it’s still shaped like a bowling pin.)
The only things that betray the otherworldly experience inside are a series of gargantuan art installations — like a scrawny arachnid, a metallic coyote, and a flower-sniffing robot — that cascade down like landmarks in the parking lot.
Inside is the ubiquitous box office, small cafe, and gift shop. But upon entering the facility – House of Eternal Return – You will be transported to a completely different place.
Once inside, guests find themselves in the front yard of a beautiful two story Victorian home in Mendicino, California. You can linger on the porch. Look in through the windows. Hear conversations between neighbors through a fence. Search the mailbox for messages sent to the Selig family and read them for yourself. Or you can of course go indoors. And that’s where things get weird.
Sure, this home has all the rooms you would expect—a drawing room, study, kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, closets, and more—but inside lies something extraordinary. It turns out that this house was affected by something known only as Anomoly – an inexplicable event that tore through the house, ripping rifts in time and space and turning the Seligs’ nondescript home into a multiversal crossroads.
you could spend hours the pouring over the diaries of the daughter of the blessed; searching drawers; They investigate mysteries and investigate the connections within the house, which ultimately provide an origin for the Anomoly and motives for the shadowy government agency that quarantined the house.
But for most Meow Wolf guests, the path to discovery is a lot less exhilarating. It goes through the fridge.
Actually, dozens of unexpected breaks in the space-time continuum exist throughout the house. From room to room, folds in the fabric of existence create unusual sights and sounds. But more importantly, these folds occasionally break out completely on portals.
Crawling through the chimney will take you to a day-glo aquarium where you are the fish. Rummaging through clothes in the children’s closet transports guests to crystal caves where the glowing skeleton of a mammoth can be played like a xylophone; The fridge leads to the headquarters of the interdimensional travel agency Portals Bermuda, which then leads on to secret gardens, ice stations and deserts…
Even the laundry room has an unexpected connection to another world…it’s right inside the dryer if you’re willing to climb inside.
Finally, almost all of the mini-worlds in Meow Wolf lead into the forest – a glowing, multi-level forest, spiral staircases, drawbridges, hidden habitats, living plants, and more. You can rest in its grassy hills, or soar through the forest’s illuminated canopy, discovering ever-increasing connections to new rooms, interactive elements, curiosities, artworks, and routes back into the home itself, discovering unexpected connections between our world and this one.
It would be easy for even the most avid explorers to miss an endlessly dark room lit only by an interactive laser harp; a black-and-white room adorned with the details of a 1920s Fleisher cartoon; Dioramas of the Seligs’ hamster unexpectedly flung into the comedy and chaos of the multiverse. Take the “Wilderness” room alone and you will have a transcendental experience of creating music in real time surrounded by geometric, stylized, folded paper animals.
In the farthest corners of the universe resides Fancy Town – a geometric urban scale that serves as the backdrop for concerts that use Meow Wolf as a venue.
The house of eternal return literally unfolds into ever more elaborate, trippy and otherworldly environments. The toroidal timeworm (a kind of spaceship-like space for relaxing); a vertical recline school bus; Infinity rooms… even those trying to reach every nook and cranny are sure to find evidence online of rooms they never knew existed… It takes time hours to capture it all, and we consciously go into detail and imagery to preserve that experience for you.
And as a testament to how wonderfully original, creative, and thoughtful Meow Wolf is, the few strong-willed fans of entertainment design who can make it through the existing gift shop without buying a $3 copy of the “Mendo Mercury” are – an entirely fictional but immensely world-building fictional Mendocino newspaper whose stories explore the mythology of the Anomoly and its impact on Northern California. Talk about an internal intellectual property and world building stories.
It goes without saying that in a post-wizard world industry, ever more immersive experiences are all the rage. But what Meow Wolf did to his 2016 House of Eternal Return Installation is something completely new… Verily, a artist collective, with diverse creators coming together to create distinct worlds linked by an overarching narrative. This is something unlike what we’ve seen before: a totally original, fully enveloping universe designed by artists with free reign, powered by the local community, and explored at will. Mind-expanding, family-friendly and heartfeltthe first permanent installation of Meow Wolf, has carved a new niche in themed entertainment… all in an old bowling alley.
And just as Disneyland “invented” the standards we hold modern theme parks to, inspiring increasingly ambitious spin-offs that are beautifully limited, charmingly naïve, and lovingly engineered House of Eternal Return inspired two more permanent Meow Wolf installations with completely different settings and storylines… Continue reading…