Everyone seems to be speaking about Meow Wolf. Even when they haven’t any clue what they’re truly speaking about. (And that’s AFTER touring the largest factor to occur to American pop artwork since Andy Warhol popped his can of Campbell’s Soup.)
This place is a hyper-stimulating head-scratcher, to make sure. But it surely scratches a giant, cosmic, mind-blowing itch that already has altered the pop-culture panorama in Denver — and it’s solely been open since Friday.
You probably have been taking in the entire large advance media protection of Meow Wolf’s arrival and are nonetheless sheepishly asking, “Yeah, yeah, however what … IS IT … precisely?” I’m right here for you. Not with many solutions (I’m solely human), however a couple of insider suggestions that can assist you from turning into fully misplaced whereas wandering the four-floor, 90,000-square-feet “artstravaganza” that has newly saturated the downtown skyline because it pops up above the Colfax Viaduct simply west of I-25.
So what’s the Meow Wolf expertise … precisely? Properly, it’s many issues directly. It’s a very spectacular multimedia modern-art exhibit. And it’s a Dave & Buster’s for the “Stranger Issues” set. And it’s an Easter Egg hunt for super-smart avid gamers. It’s a cheeky fever dream, a future world and a selfie palace and simply concerning the largest escape room within the multiverse (with no locked doorways).
On its most simple and comprehensible degree, Meow Wolf is an limitless, pulsating, 3-D modern-art exhibit that pushes each type. That is maximalism to the max. We’re speaking neon, projections, video, work, music, metal, lighting, dioramas, spray portray, woodworking and even crochet. Eighty separate and sometimes anachronistic commissioned artwork initiatives have been fastidiously curated into this unusual new world they name “Convergence.” (Extra on that in a sec.)
As Stefon would say on “Saturday Evening Dwell,” it’s received all the things: My favourite room is a dystopian cave that options inner-city rats standing in for boxers in a Rock ’Em Sock ’Em-style cage match. There’s a Tim Burton-inspired purification room with laundry machines that spin all the things from tiny aliens to tooth. There’s a hilarious Wac-A-Mole ode to prairie canine the place you possibly can crawl in and be one with the moles. Go to a creepy, alternate universe Chuck E. Cheese. Tour “Bacon Faces” — 666 murals impressed by Francis Bacon … and bacon. Don’t miss the creature who vomits rainbows.
However there are additionally deeply significant and culturally vital artwork shows together with the Indigenous Futurist Dreamscape Lounge, which mixes music with the epic storytelling of Denver artist Stevon Lucero, who combines Toltec, Aztec, Chicano, and Afrofuturist traditions. His collaborator, Molina Speaks, calls this room “an area for humanity, indigeneity, coexistence, creativity and radical creativeness.” One other room makes use of multimedia in an try to seize the frayed, synaptic nature of Alzheimer’s illness.
However as you stroll round, you might be certain to note there’s one thing extra happening right here than spectacular artwork that each drops jaws and calls consideration to pressing social points.
There’s a dense, bottomless sci-fi narrative to all of this, well conceived as such to maintain the enthralled puzzle-solving crowd coming again again and again. However until you might be proactive in your strategy to partaking with the exhibit, you would possibly miss it. In contrast to we lazy media varieties who received the origin story spoon-fed to us final week, the Meow Wolfers will solely let you know a lot.
Right here’s what they need you to know moving into: Twenty-seven years in the past, a freak cosmic occasion merged 4 worlds from totally different universes, erasing the reminiscences of all residents. Every has its personal characters and histories that inform the bigger story. I might let you know extra, however many of the beans that received spilled to me have already got been misplaced contained in the reminiscence storm that’s my mind.
Right here’s what you wish to do:
1. If you first enter the foyer, and earlier than you enter the precise Meow Wolf expertise, strategy a workers member and ask for a Q-Go. It’s like a bank card — solely on this world, the only foreign money is reminiscences (referred to as “mems”) and … oops, I’m getting forward of myself. Suffice it to say, you’ll want this card to unlock clues to the story that come within the type of inconspicuous “ATM” machines and video games that slowly reveal the story to you. However they gained’t simply hand one to you, so keep in mind to ask. Your card will maintain observe of how a lot you study alongside the way in which.
2. As soon as inside, make your first cease the “Library of Ossuary” on the third ground. It’s an simply missed passage that incorporates all types of background info that may put you on a stable storytelling path. Search for it, since you would possibly by no means discover it by yourself.
3. At any given time, as much as 3,500 folks is perhaps making their method by way of Meow Wolf. So it’s additionally a good suggestion to step again from the plenty and establish Meow Wolf staffers you would possibly in any other case mistake for enthusiastic cos gamers taking within the expertise themselves. They’re referred to as “inventive operators,” and they’re there that can assist you. However once more, they gained’t come to you. On an earlier preview go to, my buddy engaged a younger man taking part in a personality named Yuti. She pumped him for info, and he put us on a path to an amazing story we by no means may have found on our personal. He was stationed exterior a Nineteen Sixties-style RTD bus destined for Solar Valley, one in every of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods.
Whereas it makes no evident sense for a bus from Denver to be on this world when Earth will not be one of many story’s 4 converged worlds, the storytellers cleverly integrated a key plotline that justifies the story’s Denvercentricity. It includes the destiny of 4 lacking ladies, one a long-ago RTD bus driver from Denver named Pam Rodriguez
“Pam is a essential character in our narrative,” mentioned James Longmire, Meow Wolf’s Senior Story Creator. “She was a bus driver in Denver’s Solar Valley neighborhood, and 27 years in the past, she drove her bus by way of a portal on the precise second of convergence into the aspect of the outdated Midwest Metal Constructing that existed proper right here on Colfax Avenue.”
So, because the story goes, that act of derring-do created a tether that made it potential for Q-Dot (the Multiversal Transit Authority) to open a line straight from Convergence to Zuni Avenue in Denver.
Now, that is perhaps an intergalactic storytelling attain, but it surely justified Meow Wolf placing Pam’s Nineteen Sixties Solar Valley RTD bus into the exhibit as a way of telling guests a much more vital, real-life story from again in 1978. That’s when Denver’s “Gang of 19” threw themselves in entrance of buses in protest of RTD’s lack of incapacity companies. The group blocked the intersection of Colfax and Broadway for a day, chanting, “We’ll experience!” That protest successfully launched a foundational motion in Denver to counter many sorts of discrimination and abuse confronted by the disabled group.
The very first thing my buddy observed after we climbed onto that outdated bus at Meow Wolf is that it isn’t accessible to the disabled. Odd, and doubtlessly unlawful, we questioned, on condition that that is 2021, not 1978. However by asking for the backstory, we realized that this bus has been left deliberately non-compliant. Exactly so that you would possibly ask why.
It’s a danger for Meow Wolf to undertake an “Ask, then Inform” storytelling technique to all of this, but it surely’s additionally refreshing that the corporate favors viewers curiosity over offering guests with a lot info that they don’t must assume for themselves.
So what’s Meow Wolf? Properly, it’s simply the best, most complicated factor ever.
And in case you dwell in Denver, it’s a fairly good guess that if company go to you anytime over the following a few years, repeat visits to Crimson Rocks and Meow Wolf are in your future.
Denver Gazette contributing arts columnist John Moore is an award-winning journalist who was named one of many 10 most influential theater critics by American Theatre Journal. He’s now producing unbiased journalism as a part of his personal firm, Moore Media.