A new art installation that opened in Santa Fe last week is wowing crowds and quickly garnering national and international press. The exhibit, produced by the artist collective/production company Meow Wolf, titled “House of Eternal Return,” is part cutting-edge, immersive storytelling, part scavenger hunt, part installation art exhibit, and part playground. The exhibit is expansive, both in the scope of the project and the building in which it is housed. One thing is almost certain: You’ve never experienced anything like it.
The 20,000-square-foot permanent installation was created by 135 artists, builders and writers with $2.7 million donated by “Game of Thrones” author and Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin, along with a successful $100,000 crowd-funding project. Inside are 70 different immersive spaces filled with art of every medium.
The exhibit starts innocently enough with a brief but mysterious video about the Seligs, a family from Mobile, Alabama, who have been caught intriguingly between dimensions. The first thing one sees upon entering is a life-size Victorian house, with porch, fence, yard, mailbox (with pertinent mail), everything. Inside, the house is fully furnished and decorated and lived in. Personal letters and photo albums rest on the living room coffee table. Posters of fictional pop stars line the walls of one bedroom. Food sits in the cupboards. An eerie video plays on the TV. Everything, it quickly emerges, is a clue about what happened to the Seligs, where they might have gone and what you might discover beyond the house’s walls.
But the house is only a jumping off point. Inside are portals that take you to wildly imaginative worlds and multiverses. To get to these worlds, visitors walk through refrigerator doors, crawl through a fireplace or move past clothes in a closet to follow a darkened hallway. There are no directions, maps or set pathways.
What is found on the other side of these doors and hallways are the things of fairy tales, comic books and science fiction movies: A massive coral reef, aspen trees pocked with eyeballs, a rabbit sculpture one story tall, storybook tree houses, a vintage camper, a vertical school bus, functional harps made of lasers, a room painted to look like a real-life cartoon.
“House of Eternal Return” is fully immersive and exploratory. Visitors art encouraged to touch everything and to snoop everywhere. Touch and sound play a large part in the sensorial experience. Nobs on trees create sounds when pressed. Doors slide open at the touch of a pad. A massive mammoth skeleton doubles as a xylophone.
The encouraged exploratory nature of the show and the sheer imaginative qualities make it compelling for all ages. Young children will see it as the coolest playground ever. Kids and teenagers will enjoy the sleuthy, choose-your-own adventure aspects. Adults will appreciate the craftsmanship of the spaces, the immensity of the project and, perhaps, the more subtle yet sinister aspects of the show’s narrative. Young and old alike will get lost in the wildly imaginative worlds.
“House of Eternal Return” is so immersive, in fact, that one begins to question what is real and not. Newspapers and magazines around the house report and profile the Seligs and their Alabama community. While some Meow Wolf employees are identifiable by their long white lab coats, others walk among visitors in plainclothes. There is a large, visible security force throughout the exhibit, though just how real these security guards are is questionable, as they are often seen in tandem entering rooms and conspicuously trying to locate the whereabouts of someone, using phrases like “I don’t see him in here; I bet he left.”
Prepare to spend at least a few enchanted hours inside “House of Eternal Return.” Also be prepared to have your mind blown.