“Hey, cool! There’s a passage behind this bookshelf!”
“We still need to find the laser harp.”
“Let’s go through the washing machine again, that was fun.”
“This massive neon mastodon marimba thing is like the model from the kids’ room.”
“Make sure you read the mail, and definitely open the fridge.”
These are the kind of things you overhear people saying inside Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Return. We walked in knowing that it was a large interactive art space, and not much else. Well, we knew it was in an old bowling alley, and that George R. R. Martin bought it to make this all possible. Yes, the George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame; and here there be dragons.
The parking lot housed some cool big sculptures, a couple food trucks, and a ton of cars with license plates from seemingly every state. We showed up ten minutes after opening, but still stood on line to get our tickets. It was a diverse crowd spanning generations, and included a school bus of teens wearing Meow Wolf tees. Kate surmised this place was mainstream enough to appeal to different kinds of people, and weird enough to inspire super fans who keep coming back. I think one reason we didn’t know much going in, (and the reason I’m stretching out the part before I have to explain the place,) is because Meow Wolf is really hard to describe.
Meow Wolf is a sprawling interactive art space that rewards exploration and investigation. Meow Wolf is the collective fever dream of a hundred artists, working in many mediums and presumably on several drugs, who banded together as outsiders from the art establishment (much like the beloved impressionists) and let their freak flags fly. Meow Wolf is an immersive dayglo journey into the collective unconscious and a soaring celebration of the chaotically creative human imagination.
Ok, let me explain. Spoilers ahead. When you walk through the doors you find yourself standing in front of a house at night. Through exploration you can piece together the lives of the family that lived here, and what happened to them. We read their mail, watched home movies, went through photo albums, read journals, found the combination to the safe so we could access a notebook on scientific experiments that granted a pet hamster immortality, and decoded a secret message that led to this website which explains most of the story through one character’s perspective.
Long, sprawling, non-linear story short: a family has stumbled onto technology that allows them to create portals through the multiverse, and it hasn’t gone well. They have attracted the attention of The Charter, a powerful intergalactic cabal trying to stamp out chaos in the universe and create perfect order. Further complicating things, the youngest member of the family, Lex, has faded out of existence and is presumed lost in the fog space between realities.The family’s attempt to rescue Lex nearly collapsed space and time, and has created a labyrinth of pocket dimensions around the house filled with memories and mythos from the family members’ subconscious.
Think Alice in Wonderland and Poltergeist meet 2001: A Space Odyssey, starirng Doc Brown and the Royal Tenenbaums. This is the world you get to search, wander, climb, and crawl through. Each twist and turn exposing a new room filled with strange and beautiful things.
See why I was hesitant to explain it? And the thing is you can entirely ignore the storyline (of course I couldn’t, but you could) and just play in this cavernous, psychedelic jungle gym of whimsy and wonder. Here’s a tiny fantastical cake city, there an ice machine that leads to a hall of mirrors, around the corner is a tree house with stairs leading down to the arcade and sideways school bus. Even the hallway to the bathroom is covered in interesting, weird, inspiring art. And they even kept the bowling alley carpet that looks so good in the blacklight.
It was an incredible experience. Kate and I were in there for two hours, came out to eat lunch and regroup, and then went back inside for at least another hour. We left feeling exhausted and inspired. Meow Wolf is expanding to other cities, and they just released a movie about the making of the Santa Fe site which I’m excited to see when we’re back in civilization full time. Visit this place if you ever get the chance, and in the meantime go online and search for videos on it because, despite this feeling like a long post, I don’t think I did it justice.