Today marks the opening of Omega Mart, Meow Wolf’s long-awaited Las Vegas follow-up to its wildly popular Santa Fe immersive art installation the House of Eternal Return, which helped kickstart the art world’s experience economy.
“It’s really up to you to write your own story,” Emily Montoya, one of Meow Wolf’s co-founders and Omega Mart’s creative director, told Artnet News during a robot-led Zoom tour of the 52,000-square-foot space. Montoya recommends a two-hour stay, probably more than one: “You can’t really see everything on your first—visit multiple trips are encouraged to get the full thing.”
The main attraction at Area 15, a retail and entertainment complex that opened off the Vegas strip last summer, Omega Mart bills itself as “America’s Most Exceptional Grocery Store.”
At first glance, guests might mistake the exhibition’s entrance for a normal supermarket, with its shelves lined with ordinary comestibles. But a closer look reveals that they are stocked with more than 100 custom-made products, each more bizarre than the last, including “Who Told You This Was Butter?” air freshener, “Nut-Free Salted Peanuts,” and “Plausible Deniability Laundry Detergent.”
“They’re all real and you can buy all of them,” Montoya said.
And if one ventures over to the store’s “Frosty Drinkables” section for a cold beverage, you’ll step inside a refrigerator—almost as if passing through the wardrobe to Narnia—and reemerge in the otherworldly “Projected Desert.” Slip behind the lockers in the store’s employee break room, and you’ll find the futuristic headquarters of Dramcorp, the fictional corporate giant that runs the store.
“Omega Mart is a subsidiary of the cyber-spiritual corporation Dramcorp, which is innovating technologies to revolutionize the supply chain,” Montoya explained. “These technologies have opened up portals which serve as the gateway from Omega Mart into other worlds.”
The vaguely threatening nature of Dramcorp implies a critique of consumer culture. It appears to be lacing its products with an addictive “Additive S” ingredient, derived from a mysterious fount of energy called “the Source,” located in the bowels of the factory.
Guests are welcome to tease out the details of this mythology if they like, or they can stick to posing with the Instagram-friendly displays for photos.
“Our goal is to create an environment to let people come in and have their own interpretation,” Montoya said. “Our intent is to portray a very nuanced and rich narrative that sprawls across multiple parallel dimensions of reality.”
Those realities include 60 different environments spread throughout four thematic sections, all set to a soundtrack featuring Brian Eno, Santigold, and Beach House. More than 325 artists and other collaborators contributed 250 unique projects.
The experiential attractions include three massive slides for guests to ride. A sled outfitted with spray guns that release a sanitizing mist is sent down after each rider as part of health precautions, which also include timed tickets at 25 percent capacity and mandatory masks and temperature checks.
The Las Vegas opening is a big step for Meow Wolf, which, since its founding in 2008, has evolved from a scrappy art collective to a multimillion-dollar operation backed by author George R.R. Martin. Omega Mart is the first new site to open in a planned series of expansions in Denver, Phoenix, and Washington, DC.
But the company’s explosive growth has been threatened over the past year. In April, citing the pandemic’s “devastating economic impact,” more than half of Meow Wolf’s staff was laid off or furloughed. The Santa Fe flagship, which had been attracting 500,000 visitors annually, remains shuttered due to health regulations.
There have also been rumblings of discontent among staff. Some announced an intent to unionize in September. Those efforts, Montoya said, “are still in talks and it’s still progressing, but that’s all I can really say.”
See more photos of Omega Mart below.
Source: Exhibition - news.artnet.com