Wonderspaces art museum features installations ranging from virtual reality to suspended lights

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Alison Narro | Daily Texan Staff

In a room filled with 8,064 softly glowing string lights suspended from the ceiling, urban studies junior Meesha Afkami found the perfect photo op.

“(The installation) felt otherworldly, (and) it was like an enchanted forest,” Afkami said. “Especially when you're in the middle of it and surrounded by only lights.” 

Afkami posted a captionless Instagram story with a mask on in front of “Submergence,” an art installation by UK-based artist group Squidsoup. 

On July 10, Wonderspaces Austin, a 28,000 square foot art museum featuring 12 high-tech interactive art installations, opened in Northeast Austin. The museum features work from international artists and is one of only three locations in the United States, with a fourth location in San Diego, California, opening in mid-October. 

General manager Michelle Bierbower said the company had been interested in opening a location in Austin for a while because of the flourishing creative scene. 

“The only way I know how to describe Austin — and this is coming from a little bit of an outsider's perspective — is that it is a vibrant and thriving creative community,” Bierbower, a Chicago native, said. “I think that is part of what characterizes the city, and being able to be a part of that … is such an honor for us.”

Bierbower said the company is following strict COVID-19 safety measures, requiring masks and placing hand sanitizers around the museum. Visitors must sign up for an appointment time in advance to limit the number of people in the museum at once.

“If we catch visitors taking their masks off they are asked to leave,” Bierbower said. “We are putting safety above (the) … user experience at this point, just because we are living through a pandemic.” 

One of Afkami’s favorite art installations at the museum is “Dinner Party,” a virtual reality piece based on the true story of Betty and Barney Hill, a couple that claimed to be abducted by aliens. The piece places visitors in a simulation where they become the Hill’s dinner guests and listen to the couple’s story. 

“It was crazy because I watched the whole thing and I was like, ‘No way, this is probably fake,’ (but) then at the end it said, ‘This is based on a true story,’” Afkami said. “I like scary movies so it was like combining that with art.” 

 

Public relations senior Sarah Sohne said she is used to seeing her artist sister paint traditional oil paintings. But after going to Wonderspaces, she said she saw how art is evolving. 

“It (showed) how the world is becoming more technology-centered,” Sohne said. “You wouldn't think that would be art (compared to) art in a traditional art museum, so it was mind boggling.”

Afkami said Wonderspaces was different from other art museums because the installations were interactive, fun and easy to understand. 

“I really liked it, I had fun. … I just had an urge to go to an art museum or experience art,” Afkami said. “And I definitely felt like (I) was satisfied after going.”

Bierbower said she hopes Wonderspaces will offer the community a break from the difficulties brought on by the pandemic.

“I feel like people are hungry for something other than just being stuck in their house,” Bierbower said. “Being able to take people out of that for a minute is amazing and something the world really needs right now.”