Bed, Bath and truly Beyond: Meow Wolf brings immersive art to Grapevine
The former site of the Bed, Bath and Beyond at Grapevine Mills is leaning heavily into the great beyond with an otherworldly immersive art exhibition called “The Real Unreal” from Meow Wolf.
Meow Wolf, an art and storytelling company known for its immersive exhibitions, has permanent installations in Las Vegas, Denver, its flagship in Santa Fe — and now Grapevine.
Each “portal” has its own storyline that begins in a seemingly normal setting: a transit station, a supermarket or, in the case of Santa Fe and Grapevine, a family home. But upon further inspection it’s clear that things are just a little, well, … odd.
Sticky notes, jazz records and a stack of missing person posters drop hints about the two families living under the same roof. Guests can carefully follow these breadcrumbs or they can suspend any attempts at reasoning and accept that it’s unlikely they will accurately predict what’s in the shed or around the corner.
Writer LaShawn Wanak was commissioned to create the storyline for this portal. The assignment was a natural fit for someone who grew up reading science fiction, fantasy and was deeply inspired by “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“One of the things that I’ve always wanted to do is write a story where there’s a kid that goes off into a magic portal and, well, what happens to the adults who are left behind?” she said. “And so I decided I’m going to tell the story from the point of view of the adults.”
From the garden in the front yard to the spice jars in the kitchen, her ideas fill the house at the beginning of the exhibition. The story provided a jumping off point, but artists were also given license to let their imaginations run wild as they built their own worlds around it.
“It’s almost like a game of telephone tag where artists have their own spin on things,” Wanak said. “It just becomes this conversation in art. We’re all talking the same language. It’s experienced and expressed in different ways, but it’s all connected. …. And it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.”
The self-guided, nonlinear tour is a choose your own adventure book brought to life.
Meow Wolf started as a small artist collective in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2008. The success of its flagship site and the company’s ability to expand into new markets have garnered some criticism for creating corporate art.
Stavo Craft, a multi-disciplinary artist on staff, is familiar with this criticism but said the funding allows artists to make pieces that would be hard to finance on their own and have access to a team of fabricators, light and sound designers, and other professionals.
“I saw this piece in particular and thought wow … These same artists in Santa Fe who were kids in an upstart art collective have financing,” he said. “Yes, it’s creativity and it’s beautiful, but it’s also like they have access to a really high budgetary level of options in their creativity.”
But they are not precious about the space. They encourage people to push buttons, open doors and crawl through tunnels where they find them.
When asked if there’s any concern about kids coming into the exhibition and running wild, Craft casually replied, “That’s what we want. We want them to come in here and go nuts.”
Meow Wolf wants adults to have that permission to play, too. Childlike curiosity gets harder to maintain as we grow older, Craft said, but creative spaces and kids can help unlock that.
“Kids are great because they tend to know what to do,” Craft said. “Like you press this and there is this sequence and it makes this (other thing in) the room go on,” Craft said.
“The Real Unreal” contains works from over 150 of Meow Wolf’s own employees and about 40 collaborating artists from across Texas. Meow Wolf’s staff contains many artists of all stripes, sound designers, muralists and fabricators, several of whom have worked on multiple portals. For that reason, frequent travelers are likely to pick up on elements that overlap or give a subtle nod to the other portals.
At this point, most people who know of Meow Wolf, know that refrigerator doors serve as gateways to other realms. But what they will find on the other side of the door is unique to each location.
The inclusion of locally designed spaces is part of what gives each site its own distinct flavor. Dallas-based artist Will Heron said he researched the local arts community for about three or four years. As the artist liaison for the Grapevine project, he worked with the team to find a good mix of Texas artists across styles and disciplines.
Rather than soliciting pitches or hosting a competition, Meow Wolf reached out to artists and asked them to participate.
“If you follow the art scene in DFW, you’re going to see a lot of familiar faces doing things they’ve never done before,” he said. “I like to point to Mariell Guzman, who is one of our big superstar Fort Worth muralists. This is the first time she’s done fully immersive work.”
She has several giant sculptures in a disco-jungle-themed space.
“This is the first time she’s sculpted,” Heron said. “I think that’s super cool that we get to show off our local talent, but then also push them to new heights … It’s exciting.”
Meow Wolf’s Grapevine location will be open seven days a week, but the hours will vary based on demand, weather and rentals.
From Fort Worth, the gateway into the beyond is roughly 30 miles away.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
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