Meow Wolf

Santa Fe’s an odd place under the best of circumstances. Founded in 1608, it’s the oldest State Capitol in the United States. It’s full name – La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis  – which translates to “The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi” is also probably one of the longest city names in the United States. It’s an artsy city where the old ways clash with the new ways and it’s not uncommon to see someone sitting in front of a store happily strumming a guitar while someone else plays bongos to a completely different beat.

Quirky is a common descriptor for the place.

I have something of a mixed relationship with art. I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I do appreciate some of it. Contrary to popular belief, my appreciation of art extends beyond comic books and bikini models. Still, even though I can appreciate the technical skill required to create a great work of art, that doesn’t always mean I want it hanging in my living room.

This, on the other hand, would offset our collection of Dia De Los Muertos artwork nicely.

A Friend in Need, by Cassius Marsellus Coolidge
A Friend in Need, by Cassius Marsellus Coolidge

I also have a kick ass Fantastic Four poster by Alex Ross. It’s not in the living room, though; it clashes with the skeletons.

Anyway, just like Santa Fe is quirky, I like my art quirky.

I’ve done a bunch of book reviews on this blog, but I’ve never reviewed art. Especially art like Meow Wolf, which is in a whole other category of art. Even though it starts with ‘M’, look for it in the A range because it’s awesome and amazing and astounding. It’s a whole immaculately detailed display the likes of which I’d like to be able to write, and man is it quirky. Quirky cool, that is.

Here’s the thing: I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I walked in to Meow Wolf. I knew it would be art and I knew it would be quirky from checking out the website, but the totality of the installation is nothing short of mind-blowing.

When you drive up, you’re greeted by massive statues of wolves and spiders and robots, standing guard over a re-purposed bowling alley.

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Wolves usually aren’t this happy to see humans. We have a pretty bad track record with them.
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In Santa Fe, spider stomps on you.

Inside Meow Wolf, the world changes and suddenly giant spiders and wolves seem normal, almost baseline compared to what lurks in the main exhibit.

And here’s where things start to get strange. You buy your ticket, you get ready to take your ride, and you’re immediately greeted by a video of a strange man explaining the rules of the inside to you. He’s not like you and he’s not like me and it’s best to do what he says, but the totality of his statements don’t hit you until you walk through those black doors and reality takes a hard left and steps on the gas. He’s a precursor of things to come and the first real hint that this won’t be what you’re expecting.

This is no normal art installation. You don’t walk along and nod appreciatively at the clever soup cans or the painting of the falling whale and flower pot. There are no neat rows of pictures roped off with tacky red velvet rope.

Through the black doors there’s a house. A mostly normal looking house. You can even go inside it if you want to. Inside you’ll find a living room with a TV playing, a couch, a bunch of books, and a picture of a family: husband, wife, two kids.

The guy on the video out front encouraged us to explore, to touch and pick up and look inside. Go up the stairs and poke around and you’ll find a computer, a master bedroom and three kids’ rooms. (Let’s see how well you were paying attention).

The rooms are quirky, but not overly so. They look real. They feel real. It feels just like being in some stranger’s house. This is where you have to shove aside your normal desire to be a good guest and give into your darker impulses. Because if the house itself feels a bit odd it’s only when you open the closets that you’ll find a wonderland that would make Alice feel like she’s tripping balls.

And that’s when the magic starts to happen.

I’ve always had this feeling that just beyond the normalcy is the wondrous realm. The Dreaming Lands, The Nowheres, the Area 51s, and the Dulces are hiding out there and all it takes is finding the right door to kick down.

In Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, any door will take you to the Dreaming Lands. All you have to do is open it.

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A glowing Mastodon skeleton, found right inside the boy’s closet.

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While the Mastodon may seem really cool, and that strange audio message is pretty slick, it’s what happens when you push a little further and find an entire city buried inside the house that will really blow your mind.

Because even though Meow Wolf is art, it’s a story and every bit of the installation tells a part of that tale, from the warped and rippling ceiling of the dining room to the refrigerator you can crawl through to wind up in a futuristic dimensional travel facility. The tree house, the red room, the crashed bus, the video arcade, the piano; all are part of the tale.

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The whole installation, all 20,000 whopping feet of it, holds clues to what happened to the people who lived in the house. It’s a walk-in X-File, a trip through a neon Twin Peaks, and a nostalgia trip all wrapped up and topped with a bow made out of some strange material that hasn’t been invented yet. Each room is at once perfectly normal and disturbingly eerie. It’s the physical manifestation of what it’s like to listen hardcore versions of Rick Springfield songs.

You could spend days in here examining the details, looking through the books, pondering the meanings, and never get bored. You might get lost – both in space and time – but you’ll never get bored.

The pictures below are a few samples I managed to get while I wasn’t staring in gape-jawed wonder at the new world Meow Wolf has created. As a writer, I hope to eventually manage to create such a richly detailed world and let readers wander through it.

I want to write something this amazing, this fun, and this quirky.

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