Meow Wolf, baby.
The big news in D.C. this week is that Meow Wolf is coming to the capital of khaki, to the District of dull, to the nation’s mecca of meh.
How many times am I going to say “Meow Wolf” before explaining what it is?
As many times as possible. Because it’s fun to say (try it), and because I sound totally plugged in and insidery — like my teal hair is flapping in the wind as I ride a scooter to a fermented-food tasting while wearing my Fjällräven backpack — when I go around telling other people how stunning it is that Meow Wolf is coming to D.C.
(Even though I say that when I’m actually waiting around the locker room at hockey practice or helping run the school bake sale.)
And, well, to be honest? I’m not exactly sure how to explain what Meow Wolf is.
And neither does most of Washington.
Shorthand, it’s an art thing. One of the biggest, buzziest exhibits in the world since it opened in Santa Fe, N.M., two years ago.
So, art. Like white wine, oil on canvas and Georgetown?
The folks there were positively thrilled to have Meow Wolf in town.
“Yes, it’s a positive,” said Susan Calloway, of Susan Calloway Fine Arts in Georgetown, before confessing: “I’ve actually just heard of it.”
No, it’s not that kind of art.
So is it, like, Smithsonian art? Like “great artists of the world” art?
I went to one of the Hirshhorn Museum’s longtime conservators, Clarke Bedford, who is interesting because he did three decades in the big art world, but I know him because of the quirky and ever-expanding personal art he’s been making in his modest Maryland home since he retired. He’d know because he’s totally cool.
“I still don’t know what the [expletive] it is,” was his expert opinion.
That’s Yankee curmudgeon Bedford, who is a delightfully profane rebel with “Museums Kill Art” welded to two of his cars.
Bedford of the Smithsonian art world will say he doesn’t want to use the wrong terms but would classify it as an artistic, immersive experience.
“It’s a generational thing,” he continues. And, at 71, he may be inclined to snark about it, but admits that at 22 or 23, he may have been totally into it.
And now, you don’t have to be 71 to not get it.
Even plenty of Reddit users were stumped.
“I dunno what the [expletive] this is, but I guess I’m excited,” wrote “urmotherismylover.”
Dude. It’s number four on the 50 Best Experiences in the World right now list, according to Time Out magazine.
So let me try to explain.
Collaborative. Interactive. Immersive. That’s what you’ll hear. With a little Burning Man thrown in.
It’s basically an artists’ collective exhibit that opened in Santa Fe two years ago and is completely beloved.
Its main feature is “The House of Eternal Return,” which the Travel channel described as being like “a living, breathing choose-your-own-adventure novel written by C.S. Lewis — you never know what will be down those rabbit holes or inside the fridge door.”
It’s partly funded by “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin.
And it includes “architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, video production, cross-reality (AR/VR/MR), music, audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming, performance, and more,” according to its website.
I actually have heard about it before, when I was trying to figure out why a friend of ours is moving to Santa Fe. (And I’ve said “Meow Wolf” as many times as possible since then.) And I secretly imagined how hipster my kids would sound, regaling their trip to Millennial Disneyland, when we went to visit the friend.
And now it’s coming to D.C.
It’s supposed to open in 2022, in a three-story, 75,000-square-foot building by the Fort Totten Metro station, in a quiet, working-class part of the District that hasn’t had this much buzz since Walmart moved in. Brought by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the development will have artists’ residences, a food hall, a craft brewery, makers’ spaces, a children’s museum and a grocery stall.
The folks at that Fort Totten Walmart had no idea what the heck I was talking about when I asked them if they were excited about Meow Wolf.
“What? You looking for pet food?” one clerk said.
At the future site, next to a gleaming new apartment building, residents were abuzz with the news.
“We were talking about it yesterday, everyone is excited,” said Millie Velez, a pastry chef and program coordinator for a culinary school in D.C. who was out walking her own little wolf, a snow-white mop named Poco who looks like he might meow. “I hadn’t heard about it before, but it’s good to see that side of D.C. growing.”
Indeed, it’s a breathtaking development for the city’s left-brainers, the folks trying to bust out of the city’s wonkiness.
“There is kind of a stigma with being an artist who lives in D.C. You’re not as well-respected as an artist who lives in New York. . . . There’s an outside perception that being in D.C., we’re not up to snuff because we’re known as a political town,” District native and artist Caitlin Teal Price told my colleague Tara Bahrampour.
Sure, some forms of politics can be art. Performance art, especially.
Even in a place where “every third person is a lawyer,” Bedford reminded me, the city’s full of interesting weirdos. He recently got a visit from the Smithsonian’s resident spider expert. “She was the biggest nerd you could be around, and all she could really talk about was spiders.”
“It’s a nutty place, D.C.,” he said. “It’s a Frankenstein city, a bunch of things stitched together uncomfortably.”