Exploring Art

A Different Kind of
Art Museum

By Noreen Kompanik | Photography courtesy of Kate Russell from Meow Wolf Museum
Sante Fe’s interactive Meow Wolf takes visitors through a wacky wonderland of art.
Santa Fe has always been renowned for its phenomenal art scene. With over 250 galleries and dealers, the New Mexico town is the third largest art market in the country.
When a group of young creative but penniless “art punks,” as they call themselves, didn’t fit into the city’s traditional gallery and art scene, they found themselves on the outside looking in. These intrepid artists decided to create a unique art experience, transcending the typically conforming, and grasping the surreal.
The result was Meow Wolf, a pop-cultural phenomenon that has made national news, including stories in USA Today, Rolling Stone magazine, and on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Time Out Magazine ranked the unusual museum No. 4 on its 50 Best Experiences in the World list in 2018.
The starving group of artists all living under the same roof began their bizarre and intriguing art adventure in 2008. With no money for supplies, they collected trash and engaged in dumpster-diving for materials. Initially displayed anywhere they could find space, their creations became so popular, they soon needed a more permanent venue.
An abandoned bowling alley seemed the ideal solution, but they lacked the money to buy it. That’s where Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin stepped in. He was so intrigued with the artists’ “back of the napkin” plan that he bought the bowling alley.
“We asked him to take a chance on us, and he did,” says Vince Kadlubek, co-founder and CEO of Meow Wolf, a name that was literally a combination of words drawn from two hats by the artists.
Meow Wolf opened in March 2016 after enlisting 140 artists and 300 volunteers to build the wacky wonderland of weird exhibitions and platforms. The multiverse entertainment venue is unlike any other, bringing together an eclectic team of artists, painters, architects, sculptures, performers, and writers who create a whimsical neon universe built on the idea of pure self-expression. Located five miles from the heart of Santa Fe, Meow Wolf is now one of Santa Fe’s most popular attractions.
Meow Wolf boasts an immersive and interactive experience that transports visitors on a journey to another dimension of the time-space continuum. Its unconventional off-beat “House of Eternal Return” virtual reality trip begins when guests enter what appears to be a normal Victorian mansion. This mystery house is like walking into a Sci-Fi movie set. There are secret passages and portals to another fantastic world of surreal dimensions.
The story begins with the Selig family, once residents of the mansion. While experimenting with interdimensional travel, they accidentally tapped into a mysterious force. The fabric of time and space dissolved, and the family disappeared to an alternative dimension on the “other side.”

And how does a Meow Wolf visitor actually get to the “other side?” Through the refrigerator, of course. That’s when things get really weird. No maps or guides are provided, as the purpose is for each guest to explore and discover the exhibitions on their own, within their own time frame. Chroma depth glasses provide for an even more enhanced three-dimensional journey.

Dozens of chambers, more secret passageways, wormholes, an entrance through a washing machine, a neon kelp forest and so much more complete the experience. All provide a mind-bending, unearthly funhouse encounter that’s a continuously shifting blend of control and chaos. It’s beyond anything you can imagine in your wildest dreams. One such dichotomy etched on a wall reads, “be realistic, demand the impossible.” And these artists deliver.

But there’s more to Meow Wolf than its immersive exhibition. The artists believe that giving back to the community is of utmost importance so a multipurpose room off the lobby, known as the David Loughridge Learning Center, was established to promote local artistry. Its goal is to engage the community in freedom of expression and encourage self-expansion and free-choice through art-making. The collective members know full well the impact art has on the human ability to grow, learn, and express oneself.

Learning Center Studio Monitor Kathy Stevenson is especially proud of the work Meow Wolf has done locally. “When you see a smile on the face of a developmentally disabled child who’s so proud to have created his own personal masterpiece, it’s heartwarming,” says Stevenson. “And we see it time and time again.”

Meow Wolf’s impressive gift shop carries unique apparel, books, artwork, and home products for those who wish to take a piece of fantasy home with them.

Since their grand opening, more than a million visitors have ventured into Santa Fe’s “House of Eternal Return.” The concept has become so popular that Meow Wolf is opening four new immersive experiences in Las Vegas, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Phoenix.

Honestly, though, you really have to see it to believe it.


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