Trying to describe a visit to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM, is like trying to describe “red” to a blind person: Impossible. Even the website can’t quite nail it. “Meow Wolf creates immersive and interactive experiences that transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of story and exploration.” See what I mean?
So far, you’re not intrigued, right?
Gotcha. Bear with me. Meow Wolf is actually an art collective, with 400 artists–painters, architects, sculptors, writers, actors–who came together in 2008. They decided to find a way to make exhibits that would allow the audience to view their works without bias or influence. So…a three-year-old enjoys the experience as much as I did, starting with the huge robot, by Christian Ristow, in the parking lot.
Santa Fe is an “art-centric” town, with miles of upscale galleries featuring bazillion-dollar creations. One stroll down famous Canyon Road tells you that there’s no room for upstarts or weirdos. (A quick search shows that a tiny gallery can cost at least $6,000 a month, plus other fees and expenses. Only mainstream artists and wealthy gallery owners can afford that kind of overhead.)
Instead, Meow Wolf is located in a former bowling alley, purposely away from the high-rent downtown. The MW artists had zero money to purchase the abandoned-for-seven-years building, so they appealed to George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones books: “Please take a chance on us. No one else is going to…” Martin, who was born in Santa Fe, agreed that the snooty art scene could use some agitation. “Okay, I’ll buy the bowling alley,” he told them, and was promptly named Chief World Builder for Meow Wolf.
Martin also invested $2.7 million to create a 20,000 sq. ft. installation called “The House of Eternal Return,” with surprises at every turn; secret portals in crazy places; a mystery with random clues; and a “Multiverse” you can enter in a hundred ways. (SO much more than an ordinary “universe.”) They call it “non-linear storytelling.” A vast understatement.
I’m getting it now…but that name?
The name makes no sense and certainly doesn’t give a clue about the place or its purpose. Modern marketing professionals would go berserk trying to promote “the brand.”
It’s much simpler than you might imagine. At the very first meeting of the collective, everyone put two words in a hat. The first two words drawn were…Meow and Wolf. End of story.
If you’re interested in learning more, there’s a documentary about the first ten years, “Meow Wolf: Origin Story” for rent or sale on iTunes. See the trailer here.
Ready? Let’s go inside!
First of all, there are no maps, so don’t bother to ask. And there are no descriptions of what you’re looking at. It’s all up to you to find your own way.
But here’s a little–and I mean little–background from Meow Wolf: The Victorian house belonged to the Selig family, from Mendocino, California. The entire family (parents, son, and daughter) went missing one night…after conducting an illegal experiment.
What happened? Where are they? And what, exactly, is the Multiverse?
It’s up to you to decide if you want to follow the clues, which are strewn about the house. Sit on the sofa and look at the photo albums. Stop at the dining room table and sift through the pile of documents. Read the newspaper on the kitchen table. Examine the books and bulletin board in the study. Check out the family photos on the stairwell.
You’re encouraged to touch and examine. Go ahead, open the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator! Sift through the objects on desks and dressers! Sort through the toy bins! Look at the school assignments! Which way to go and where to pause doesn’t matter. It’s YOUR experience. Want to climb into the clothes dryer to see what that blue light and music are all about? Go for it!
Sooner or later, you will open a closet door or enter a hallway that leads to–you guessed it–the Multiverse. If things seemed odd before, now they are full-tilt whacko. Apparently the Seligs somehow triggered this…or maybe it was there all along. Who can say, really?
Wander freely. There are rooms and passageways waiting for you. Climb the stairs to a treehouse and to get an indescribable view. Meow Wolf wants to shake your perceptions. Time and space have been altered. Everything is Art. Really.
Spend as much time as you like at The House of Eternal Return. I was there about three hours before I felt my head was going to burst. Some people like to stay all day, trying to solve the Selig mystery. Others like to return several times, sort of chunking it all down. Still others don’t care a whit about anything except looking at the tilting toilet and walking through all the black light scenes. They’re in and out within an hour.
The thing is, it’s all good.
Recognizing that some folks like a sense of security and a bit of guidance, Meow Wolf now offers two tools:
- The Anomaly Tracker App: Use your phone to find clues and solve the Selig mystery with this $4.99 app, available at the Apple Store or Google Play.
- House of Eternal Return Audio Tour: Pay $4.99 for this at the ticket desk when you check in. You’ll get a self-guided tour of 45 locations in the House, told by the 35 artists who created them.
I honestly can’t recommend these for your first-time visit…the whole point is to become discombobulated, and discover things for yourself. For a second, third, or fourth time? Sure, if you want.
A word about confusion
Vince Kadlubek, a co-founder and now CEO of Meow Wolf, wants you to be confused. He believes we live in “a crisis of imagination,” and by offering “alternative realities,” he can help shake off the doldrums that hold us back from our finding and expressing our own creative purpose.
To that end, Meow Wolf is more than an art installation. It’s also a place to come and learn. The non-profit has a dedicated Education Center:
- Sign up for a doodling or drawing class
- Art as therapy and self-care? Look no further.
- Kids-only classes stimulate their creativity
- High schoolers have their own exhibits at “The House”
- Wondered about Slime? Come try it!
Wow! What else does Meow Wolf do?
Because Meow Wolf is a comprehensive collective, musicians and performing artists get their turns, too. There is a stage, with a full schedule of bands, singers, and film. Most are held long after kiddo bedtimes–and there’s a bar with creative (of course) adult beverages. Norwegian Rot, anyone?
Float–the cafe/bar in the lobby–has a “retro-futuristic sci-fi” theme…whatever that means. Thankfully, the menu is provided by a local Cajun restaurant, so you don’t have to wonder what you’re eating.
Want to visit? Who doesn’t?!?
The original Meow Wolf is in Santa Fe. You’ll need to reserve your tickets–it’s a timed-entry thing. You can’t just show up. (But once you’re in, stay as long as you like.) Here are the details:
New Mexico Residents with a valid ID always get a discount
Friday and Saturday 10:00am-10:00pm
Address and Phone
1352 Rufina Circle
Santa Fe, NM 87507
Good to know
*Parking is free, but the lot is not huge. No RVs.
*Meow Wolf is located at the edge of an industrial area, so don’t expect neighborhood charm. But that allows space for the outdoor sculptures!
*If you don’t want to eat at Float, there are usually a couple of food trucks outside. Several good restaurants are nearby. I liked Tortilla Flats, a local place.
Las Vegas 2020, Denver 2021, and Washington DC…after that. They will have different installations. But there’s nothing like the original, right?