These days, travelers are going way beyond paintings and sculptures. Full-immersion—complete with lights, sound, textures, and digital tricks—is a thrilling way to enjoy modern creativity.
Quiet galleries lined with impressive collections displayed at arm’s length will always have their place, but lately, multi-sensory art installations that put the observer at the center of the action are capturing people’s attention. Destinations where visitors can interact with art through movement, touch and sound—often using the latest in digital technologies—are popping up everywhere. Here are seven solid locations that offer immersive experiences for a variety of audiences.
1. Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return: Sante Fe
(Kate Russell/Courtesy Meow Wolf)
Built in a former bowling alley in Santa Fe and funded by Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return launched in 2016 and quickly garnered a reputation as an iconic immersive-art destination. Meow Wolf visitors start by entering the home of the fictional Selig family and, before long, start to discover portals throughout the house (hint: check the refrigerator), leading to fantastical spaces created by local artists. These surreal environments, which combine light, sound, and all manner of images and structures, are part of a mysterious story line involving the Selig family. While some visitors work hard to unravel the mystery, most just choose wander, explore, and experience the sensory wonderland. Meow Wolf is wildly popular, so expect to wait in line. Plans are in place for Meow Wolf Las Vegas AREA15 to open at the end of 2019. There are also spinoff experiences in the works for Denver and Washington, D.C.
Admission from $17; meowwolf.com.
2. The City Museum: St. Louis
Located in a repurposed shoe warehouse, the City Museum has been pushing the limits of art and fun since 1997, long before anyone thought to use the term “immersive art” to describe the sculptures, climbing structures, subterranean passageways, and multi-story slides filling the 600,000-square-foot space. Sculptor Bob Cassily and a team of around 20 artists created the destination’s large-scale, fanciful features using salvaged construction materials and other reclaimed objects found throughout St. Louis. The school bus hanging over the edge of the museum’s roof provides a hint of the over-the-top experience that awaits inside; an airplane fuselage suspended by a construction crane and accessible by a winding maze of caged ladders also beckons from the front of the building.
Admission, $15; citymuseum.org.
3. Factory Obscura: Oklahoma City
(Todd E Clark/Courtesy Factory Obscura)
Those born after the ‘80s may not have cherished memories of creating or receiving a custom-compiled mix tape, but Factory Obscura aims to explore and evoke the nostalgia of this bygone art form with its first permanent installation, Mix Tape. An immersive art collective that got its start creating temporary installations throughout Oklahoma City, Factory Obscura introduced the first phase of Mix Tape, including a giant interactive boom box built into the building’s façade, in March of 2019. The full 6,000-square-foot playlist-themed multi-sensory adventure opens in September 2019. Fans of the OKC-based band the Flaming Lips may recognize the location: a brightly decorated downtown art complex called the Womb, located in Oklahoma City's historic Automobile Alley building and created by front man Wayne Coyne. It's been an event venue, music-video set, and art space for the Lips. An installation by Coyne, titled King's Mouth, is the centerpiece of the Mix Tape lobby.
4. Wisdome: Los Angeles
(Courtesy Wisdome LA)
People who have attended festivals like Burning Man or Lightning in a Bottle will likely feel at home at Wisdome, an immersive entertainment art park in downtown L.A. that opened at the end of 2018. Wisdome’s five 360-degree geodesic domes offer digital art, surround sound, and virtual reality experiences, often with a psychedelic bent. Samskara, the featured installation for 2019, is the work of artist Android Jones and includes a 3-D digital-art exhibit, a fractal-heavy 360-degree film that viewers take in while lying on the ground, and an interactive VR gaming experience. Wisdome also regularly hosts concerts and special events that are enhanced by the venue’s immersive elements.
Admission $29 adults, $19 for students, $9 for children; wisdome.la.
5. ARTECHOUSE: Miami & Washington, D.C.
Featuring a new installation every three months, this intimate experiential digital-art gallery gives visitors a chance to see how different artists are currently combining art, technology, and science. The ARTECHOUSE flagship location in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2017, features three distinct digital-art spaces as well as a popular bar that overlooks the exhibits and serves augmented-reality cocktails that imbibers activate with their phones using an ARTECHOUSE app. ARTECHOUSE opened a Miami Beach location in 2018, and a New York City location is set to open in 2019.
D.C. admission from $16 for adults, $13 for students, seniors, and military; Miami admission, $24 for adults, $20 for students, seniors, and military, $17 for children 14 and under; artechouse.com.
6. Asleep in the Cyclone at 21C Museum Hotel Louisville: Louisville
Asleep in the Cyclone offers the unique opportunity to have a site-specific art installation all to yourself for an entire night. Located in a guest room at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Asleep in the Cyclone is the work of artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, who say the installation is meant to create a parallel universe where guest inhabit an environment created wholly by the artists. Inspired by the 1960s hippie commune Drop City, some of the room’s features include a colorful geodesic ceiling, a record player with a vinyl collection selected by the artists, and a curio cabinet filled with collages, books, and sculptures they created.
Nightly rates from $341; 21cmuseumhotels.com/louisville.
7. Mattress Factory: Pittsburgh
While some interactive art destinations cater to all ages with an almost amusement park-like atmosphere, this contemporary museum housed in a former mattress factory is not the kind of place you take the kids for a free-ranging play date. (No kids under 14 are allowed without parental supervision). The Mattress Factory has been specializing in site-specific installation art since it opened in 1977 and currently contains permanent installations from a number of well-established artists, including two Infinity Mirror rooms by Yayoi Kusama, light sculptures by James Turrell, and the final work by the late transgender artist Greer Lankton, “It’s all about ME, not you,” a haunting and emotionally raw recreation of her Chicago apartment filled with paintings, dolls, and other personal ephemera.
Admission, $20; mattress.org.