Meow Wolf’s New DFW Installation, “The Real Unreal,” Is Here to Break Your Brain

The trippy, immersive experience begins in a suburban house. Things are not as they seem.

August 8, 2023 6:06 am
washing machine portals in an art istallation in texas.
Meow Wolf is an art collective that creates immersive installations
Kate Russell / Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Rumors of Meow Wolf entering DFW began several years ago, and immediately fans debated where it would end up. An unused building on the edge of downtown Dallas? An old warehouse outside of Fort Worth? Good guesses, but no. Meow Wolf’s newest location is tucked inside a former Bed Bath and Beyond at Grapevine Mills Mall, which nobody had on their bingo card. An obvious upgrade over the previous tenant, the brand’s fourth permanent exhibit opened July 14 with a theme dubbed “The Real Unreal.” Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Meow Wolf?

Meow Wolf is an art collective that creates immersive installations. The group was founded in 2008 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and got its start with temporary exhibits before launching its first large-scale permanent exhibition in 2016, dubbed House of Eternal Return. Located in a former bowling alley (and backed by author/professional procrastinator George R. R. Martin), the installation invited visitors into a surreal house with secret portals, alternate realities and a mysterious storyline about the home’s inhabitants.

Meow Wolf opened a second permanent location in Las Vegas in 2021 called Omega Mart, which is a very weird and whimsical supermarket. Later that year, they expanded into Denver with Convergence Station, a multiversal transit hub that links Earth with alien worlds. The exhibitions vary significantly from place to place, but in keeping with the group’s interactive ethos, the art isn’t secured behind glass or fronted by velvet ropes. Installations are meant to be touched and explored.

Hôtel Swexan Is Dallas’s Most Exciting New Hotel in Years
Go for the stylish rooms, opulent steakhouse, basement cocktail bar and rooftop pool

What’s Happening at The Real Unreal?

The Real Unreal is centered around a suburban family and a tragic mystery, and you enter this brave new world through the front door of a seemingly normal two-story home. To create the space, Meow Wolf brought together 150 artists and fabricators, including 38 from Texas, who built the art installations within. Take a stroll through the exhibit, and you’ll be absorbed into a wild world of storytelling, technology and immersive art within 30-plus unique rooms. 

As you explore, you’ll unravel the story, which was conceived by author LaShawn Wanak. It follows a missing 10-year-old boy and a family that has unknowingly unlocked portals to a different existence. It’s your job to inspect your surroundings and figure out what happened via a series of clues that you’ll gather as you go deeper into the home.

You can also just wander around and hang out — it’s not like there’s a test afterwards. But interacting with your environment is fun (hint: open the refrigerator door and poke your head into the washing machine), and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. One minute you’re in a normal-looking suburban living room, retro kitchen or in front of a brick fireplace, and the next you’re in a psychedelic Technicolor universe that we can only assume was inspired by an artist’s acid flashback. 

“When participants step into The Real Unreal, they start a cosmic odyssey where surprises await around every corner, and each discovery sparks its own story,” says Dale Sheehan, Meow Wolf’s senior vice president and executive creative director. “Every element in the exhibition weaves together a tapestry of characters, stories and worlds.”

What Else Is There to Do?

It’s unlikely you’ll get bored here, but there are still several other attractions, including a cafe, retail store and live event venue to keep your attention. The cafe is stocked with products from local purveyors, including Celestial Beerworks, JuiceLand, JudyPie, Melt Ice Creams and Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters. After spending a couple hours inside The Real Unreal and solving mysteries like some kind of cosmic detective, you can have a cold beer and a chicken pot pie as you gather your thoughts.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.