The Real Unreal in 2024: An inside look at Meow Wolf in Grapevine

Collin-Denton Spotlighter Editor-in-Chief Brett Grega takes a tour of “The Real Unreal,” Meow Wolf’s exhibition at Grapevine Mills.

The exterior entrance to Meow Wolf – Pictures and captions by Brett Grega

There’s a portal to a different world tucked inside a shopping mall in Grapevine. It’s a realm filled with unique and eye-catching works of art that all make up “The Real Unreal,” the first Meow Wolf art exhibition in the DFW area.

As soon as you purchase a ticket and cross the threshold into the company’s space at Grapevine Mills, you’re tossed into a zigzagging pink pathway adorned with beautiful art. Neon accents line the ceilings between a dining area full of local flavors and the gift shop.

The entranceway to Meow Wolf featuring artistic work by Tsz Kam called “Metamorphoses”

Somewhere along that path, I found myself at the entrance way to “The Real Unreal.” My tour guide, Meow Wolf’s Grapevine Public Relations Manager Connor Gray, explained that the journey we would embark on in Grapevine would follow a similar narrative style to that of the company’s other exhibitions in places like Las Vegas and Denver.

“You start somewhere hyper familiar, so like a grocery store, a train station (or) a house, and then that gives you the access and ability to go out into those crazy weird art worlds you fall into,” Gray said.

Familiar was an understatement when it came to entering “The Real Unreal.” After listening to a short introduction about the rules for engaging with the exhibition, I found myself staring at the exterior of a suburban home. “You now have stepped into Bolingbrook, Illinois,” Gray said as the faint chirps of crickets in the night resonated throughout the darkened space.

The house that greets you as you step into “The Real Unreal”

Having grown up some 20 miles from Bolingbrook, the house standing before me certainly looked the part. As we began walking through the home, however, it became clear that it was so much more than a simple reconstruction of a suburban Chicagoland residence.

Portals ripped open inside the house, creating rifts into different artistic spaces to explore. Elements from those spaces seeped into the home, blurring the lines between the everyday and the extraordinary, or the real and the unreal, as it were. The home gives guests both something of a central hub for exploration and a narrative reason to explore the depths of “The Real Unreal” with a keen eye.

The home within the story belongs to Gordon Delaney, a retired jazz musician with failing eyesight. Delaney lives at the residence with his daughter, Carmen, who helps care for him. One of Carmen’s childhood friends, LaVerne Fuqua, also stays at the home with her young son Jared. When exploring the home, it doesn’t take long to see the missing person posters strewn throughout, indicating that Jared recently went missing after the portals appeared.

Created by writer LaShawn M. Wanak, the story encourages guests to discover what happened to Jared by exploring everything “The Real Unreal” has to offer. That means traveling through household objects like refrigerators and fireplaces into different realms and beyond, hunting for clues while admiring the artwork.

In that respect, Gray compared the story to a choose-your-own adventure book or open-world video game. The mystery surrounding Jared certainly helps contextualize the contents of some of the rooms, but it’s not essential to engage with it to enjoy the exhibition. The story never forces you down a particular path or even requires you to engage with it beyond a passing glance if you were looking to simply enjoy the art.

In other words, there’s no wrong way to explore at Meow Wolf. The various rooms and passages weave together from multiple different directions, with attendees able to traverse the exhibition and interact with the art at their leisure.

Interaction is key to many of the rooms in “The Real Unreal,” both from the attendees and the artists’ perspectives. Gray detailed how “a lot of the rooms are talking to each other,” with different collaborating artists having interacted with one another in the same space. Meow Wolf consistently covers “The Real Unreal” in art, creating highly detailed spaces that occasionally feature pieces in unexpected places.

It’s an approach that encourages curiosity. From humorous little miniature scenes built in different nooks and crannies in living areas to hidden passages, buttons that activate buzzing lights and sounds and even arcade games, “The Real Unreal” is full of surprises.

Of course, it’s also full of gorgeous works of art. Open an unassuming door, and you’ll find yourself in a post-Soviet era shop created by Arlington-based Yana Payusova. Weave through a glowing watermelon-painted space from Austin’s Diego Mireles Duran to find your way to another room. Find yourself standing amid a massive, drippy rainbow installation created by Dallas’ Dan Lam. In short, “The Real Unreal” is a captivating kaleidoscope of imagery, inspiration and colors.

Various “anchor spaces” act as common grounds between the artists’ rooms, each filled with works of their own. In locales like Lamp Shop Alley, filled with a workable ATM and payphone that don’t function quite the way you would expect, it’s easy to feel entirely transported to a different place and time.

A glimpse at Lamp Shop Alley

Gray described how Meow Wolf uses one of those anchor spaces, the Neon Kingdom, for its Adultiverse events. The bimonthly 21-and-up nights regularly feature DJs, bands and other artistic performances. Attendees can explore the exhibition while enjoying food, drinks and performances throughout the evening.

Beyond acting as a hub, it’s a space that’s even visible from a cleverly designed balcony on the second story, one of the last stops on my tour and another clear sightline to enjoy the events.

As Gray and I returned back to the Delaney’s home, revealing another unexpected connection back into the residency in the process, I still felt as if there was art left to discover and plenty of rooms that warranted another look for both their visually appealing paintings and designs as well as the mysteries they may hold.

 Meow Wolf’s space at Grapevine Mills is an immersive and interactive experience that spotlights great artwork often created by talented local artists. It makes “The Real Unreal” an experience that feels like it should live up to the hype for attendees.

“The Real Unreal” is open seven days a week at Grapevine Mills. For more information about Meow Wolf, including how to purchase tickets to the exhibition, visit

This interview has been edited for clarity.


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