April 07, 2024

Photo Essay: Getting Unreal at Meow Wolf's Dallas Area Installation (Grapevine, Texas)

After having enjoyed Meow Wolf's OmegaMart in Las Vegas, I was curious to check out its fourth installation, The Real Unreal, after flying into Dallas this weekend. 

It opened in July 2023 in a former Bed, Bath and Beyond at the Grapevine Mall—but you soon forget that as you step through the doors of a brick home set piece in a nighttime setting, all aglow with the warmth of family life and home and hearth. (This ties into Meow Wolf's first installation, in Santa Fe—and many other parts of this Dallas edition connect to elements from Santa Fe, Vegas, and Denver.)

But you soon realize not all is as it appears—with flyers of a missing child strewn about and crawlspaces (like through the fireplace) leading into portals of a dimension unknown.

Each Meow Wolf immersive art installation has its own storyline/narrative, functioning as a kind of escape room hybridized with a choose-your-own-adventure funhouse. 

Open the kitchen's stainless steel refrigerator door, and step into the universe of "Brrrmuda"...

...where even more fridge doors lead to other strange experiences, from other-worldly rooms... a goat-headed disco disc jockey made of trash, named Muffin (by William Robison)...

...that sets the room into a mirrorball spin for just a few seconds. 

That is, until you open the door back up (which I did over and over and over again).  

"Carnivorous Cavern" by Aubrey Schwartz

The whole installation is the work of 40 artists based in Texas, plus dozens of other creators (including sci-fi/speculative fiction writer LaShawn M. Wanak) that are part of the greater Meow Wolf collective... co-founder Quinn Tincher, who contributed "The Forgotten Pocket" pawn shop to the Brrrmuda universe. 
"The Brick Closet" by Cristofer Brodsky

Everything in the house is an object of intrigue, and every closet and crevice leads to reality increasingly being blurred with fantasy. 

In the laundry room, you can climb into a porthole for a tumble-dry experience...

...through the land of lost socks, no two alike enough to make a matching pair. 

"The Greeter" by Morgan Grasham

I skipped the laptops, cellphones, payphones, ATM, and family portraits offering clues to the whereabouts of the missing kid...

...and instead just took in the scene...
...gazing up at the commercial signs and lanterns of "Lamp Shop Alley"...

...and basking in "The Neon Kingdom" by Spencer Olsen, art director of OmegaMart in Vegas.

It's a dancefloor that had no dancers...

...though the lights were flashing and the music blasting... an architectural spectacle akin to Rolly Crump's and Mary Blair's It's a Small World at Disneyland

And there's plenty at The Real Unreal to captivate and stimulate the imaginations of children, making it a family-friendly experience...

...including the "Glowquarium" (also by Spencer Olsen), a black light fantasia of underwater life...

...somehow evoking both an aquarium and Seven Magic Mountains outside of Vegas.

It's definitely strange to watch kids climb up on drug-fueled sculptural psychedelia like "Macrodose" by Texas-raised Filipina artist Dan Lam.

And if you show up visibly intoxicated, you might be turned away—even though some might better enjoy spaces like "The Forest" while under the influence of something. 

But there are so many trip hazards, narrow spaces, and confusing ingresses and egresses—like the spiral stairs leading to a treehouse that's built into the installation's single tree—it's probably best to navigate them when you're 100%.

Still, The Real Unreal does offer select Adulti-Verse nights for those age 21 and over.  

But even amidst the rushing teenagers and squealing grade-schoolers, there are moments of quietude—even zen. 

You can find your meditative spaces, like "Midnight Garden" by Santa Fe-based artist Brandy Oleson...

...and some low-key excitement, like "Technicolored Party Inside of My Head, But Everyone's Invited Too" by Fort Worth-based mixed media artist Mariell Guzman.

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