The Art Angle Podcast: How Meow Wolf Turned Into an Unlikely Art Juggernaut

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Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

The company’s origins are the stuff of legend. A scrappy band of Santa Fe artists with a penchant for building fantastical installations from mounds of trash each write down random words on slips of paper. They draw two from a hat, thus christening themselves Meow Wolf. That was 15 years ago.

This weekend marks the opening of the fourth permanent Meow Wolf exhibition, located at the Grapevine Mills shopping mall outside Dallas, Texas. Featuring a story conceived by Wisconsin sci-fi and fantasy author LaShawn Wanak, and work by 30 Texas artists who collaborated with in the in-house artist team, “The Real Unreal,” as the exhibition is titled, transforms a former Bed Bath and Beyond into an expansive art playground.

Like the House of Eternal Return, Meow Wolf’s first permanent location, the new exhibition appears to begin in the real world, in an ordinary suburban house—but the mundane trappings of family life quickly give way to the strange and unfamiliar, the boundaries between reality and fantasy blurring and disappearing.

Since the 2016 opening in Santa Fe, Meow Wolf has amassed a devoted following for its interactive, immersive exhibitions, which use art to open portals into unknown realms. Obsessive fans have taken to Reddit to unravel all the secrets of the Meow Wolf universe. The Real Unreal is the company’s first step in tying together the disparate sites and their inter-dimensional narratives in a more readily apparent way.

And while you still may not have heard of Meow Wolf, the company is poised for even more explosive growth. Under the guidance of CEO Jose Tolosa, who came over from Viacom in 2022, the punk art collective-turned art and entertainment production company has plans to bring its spectacular artistic vision to a city near you, and to create new ways for you to engage with its unique, otherworldly storyline from the comfort of your own home. What started out as a crazy art funhouse, fueled by maker culture, has struck upon a business model that is primed to become an entertainment juggernaut.

Ahead of the public opening in Grapevine, Artnet News senior writer Sarah Cascone spoke with Tolosa not only about the company’s epic, world-building ambitions, but about staying true to its roots. So forget about the metaverse—Meow Wolf’s handmade universe, at once artisanal and high-tech, is about to blow your mind.

 

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