Museum Review: Awe and WNDR


It’s small on the outside, big on the inside. No, it’s not the TARDIS, it’s WNDR. Its chic exterior is a gentle invitation and final goodbye to the world before returning a changed person.

WNDR Museum, located in downtown San Diego, surpasses the very expectation of what an art museum should be. Rather than simply gazing at the art, viewers are instead invited to participate in creating it. This is carried out through various technological and multi-sensory displays that allow the visitors’ creativity to converge with that of the artists. In this space, art is not bound to a certain expectation, ideology, or structure — it is what you make of it. 

Upon entering the museum, there is a gift shop and a cafe. These slices of the real world soon diminish as you are teleported through a surreal, celestial-like tunnel, an exhibit simply referred to as the “Light Floor.” This dark tunnel is surrounded by mirrors, and the floor is laid with hundreds of pressure sensors that respond to your every touch. These seemingly mundane footprints that you leave behind are the first mark of the art that you create here. 

However, a common theme in WNDR’s idea of creation includes, ironically, destruction. After exiting “Light Floor,” you’re greeted with several projections of famous art pieces from artists like Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso. In a normal museum, these art pieces would be what the visitor stops and gawks at for a couple of seconds before proceeding on to the next. But WNDR defies expectations by allowing you to modify these art pieces through the use of a motion sensor. Visitors are able to wave their hands around and completely alter these works, demonstrating that even destruction is a path to creation.

WNDR definitely pushes the boundaries of what art means, and that is best exemplified by a corner of screens attached to a computer with artificial intelligence. With the advent of websites such as DALL-E 2, AI has been all the rage in recent months — especially in the art community where the use of AI and its implications remain a controversial topic. It was refreshing to see a museum use it as a tool for creation. Here, visitors have the opportunity to input prompts into the computer, letting their imagination run wild, and see how the AI interprets it. With everything from “cats in red shoes” to “chickens playing poker with chicken nuggets as the chips,” it’s captivating to see the AI attempt to understand the human mind. While WNDR acts as a playground and allows people to be the artists, even their non-interactive exhibits place visitors in the art itself.

“God:Tempo” is an enclosed space tucked away in the corner of the museum. On its own, the room is a blank canvas with a few seats sprinkled throughout. The art is showcased through a projected image living on the otherwise untouched walls. An all-consuming soundtrack consisting of various beats, ticks, and booms reverberates through the small room at a disquieting 60 beats per minute. Created by EFFIXX studio, the installation invites you to sit and ruminate on the passage of time. It’s an audio-visual interpretation of another world in the process of creation, separating light from darkness, and form from structure. It’s an enthralling experience that allows you to transcend into a reality that bends the very nature of time and space. While WNDR possesses these big, grandiose, abstract, and thought-provoking pieces of art, it also enjoys basking in simplicity and its beauty.

Off to the side of a more popular exhibit called “INSIDEOUT,” there is a seemingly blank white wall. If you look closely, there are tiny peepholes throughout. Inside these peepholes are various video loops such as an erupting volcano, the moon, and a scuba diver in the vast emptiness of the sea. The only way to view these moving pictures is to patiently stop for a moment and carefully peer through the 12mm diameter opening. Although this display is easy to overlook, it allows the viewer to hone in on an otherwise ordinary scene of life and appreciate its simple beauty. It’s a proof of concept that art is more than what meets the eye — no longer just a spectacle but a tangible experience.

These are just a few of the exhibits one can experience on their trip to the land of WNDR. The museum prides itself on the fact that no two visits are the same, and given the sheer scope of this wondrous project, it’s a hard claim to deny. 

WNDR’s official grand opening in San Diego was on Jan. 26, and Seattle seems to be next on the eclectic company’s boundless radar. As WNDR expands, perhaps so will our view on what art museums can be. All we need is a bit of childlike wndr.

Images courtesy of Helix Creative Solutions