After opening locations in San Diego and Chicago, WNDR (pronounced as “wonder”), a chain of interactive art museums, opened its doors in downtown Boston, inviting student journalists to explore and document its 21 exhibits on April 3. These exhibits combine artistry with breakthrough technology, shifting reality through unique lighting and sound techniques to immerse visitors within their respective themes. WNDR enlisted independent artists as well as its own creative team to generate these interactive attractions. 

The museum boasts a sequential walk-through setup, starting and ending in the eclectic gift shop. Two of the shop’s walls are decorated with large light emitting diode flowers, created in partnership between children “in the lives of” WNDR employees and interior designer Andrew Alford. We had the opportunity to meet and speak with Giancarlo Natale, WNDR Boston’s general manager. 

Beginning the quest through the dark museum corridor, your senses are immediately unaware of the experiences to come as you tread over WNDR’s pressure-sensitive Light Floor. In the early stages of the tour, you will be met with intense audio and visual exhibits. In one room, there were a series  of artistically strung wired cables that produce a variety of sounds and relayed conversations, only uncovered by holding your ear to a metal can. Once your eyes adjust, you see a new exhibit, MPO-1, which is an interactive “time machine” that boasts incredible optical effects partnered with human movement. These pieces launch visitors into the incredible experiences up ahead, featuring “Untitled, by You,” a generative Artificial Intelligence exhibit that creates artwork based on guest requests; a Living Gallery where pre-recorded actors on small screens will only interact with you if you stop directly in front of them; and fascinating interactive dance floors, just to name a few.

The WNDR museum hosts over 25 exhibits, with each artist emerging from a variety of educational and artistic backgrounds. Yayoi Kusama for example, the infinity room’s creator in WNDR, is a 95-year-old creator from Japan. Her artwork captures her “obsession with the infinite” as she grapples with her mental illness and relationship with the world around her. Andy Arkley, the creator of “Glorious Vision of a Rainbow” studied animation and electronic music at Evergreen State College and now works to incorporate his findings into musically visual pieces of all mediums. This piece allowed guests to create their own tunes using Arkley’s isolated sound bites; these sounds corresponded with specific visual cues on the wall.

We’d like to shine a spotlight on three exhibits in particular that we believe encapsulate the true essence of the museum.

INSIDEOUT was among the first completely immersive attractions we encountered. It was a collaboration between Berlin-based artist Leigh Sachwitz and flora&faunavisions design studio. The exhibit is located in a dark room with a smaller, transparent shed in the middle of it. There are seats and a table inside of the shed with benches surrounding it on all sides. The room’s audiovisual technology is obvious no matter your vantage point, depicting thunderstorms, lighting through strobe lighting and sound effects. WNDR’s website explains that Sachwitz and flora&faunavisions designed the space to reflect her childhood memories of experiencing thunderstorms in a garden shed in Glasgow, Scotland.  

ART GAZING: Museum goers observe the multi-media artwork INSIDEOUT, which features a dark room with a transparent shed in the center.

The exhibit expresses a storm’s temporary nature, the thunder and rain effects subsiding after several minutes. Slowly, warm light began to gradually break into the room, constructing the visage of a glowing sunrise that encompasses the room’s entirety. 

The IRIS exhibit, positioned amongst an artistically populated room towards the last few stops of the museum tour, will catch your eye immediately — no pun intended. Littered across a wide-screened corner of the room are hundreds of close-up images of human eyes. The projector screen is in constant movement, rotating individual images of the irises to showcase each one up close. A large sign below reads: “Your eye is an artists’ lens. Explore the depths of your own beautiful creation by letting our custom setup capture the intricacies and patterns only your eyes possess.” 

BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: The exhibit, IRIS, includes a slew of pictures of the eyes of other individuals who visited with WNDR.

As we got closer to the exhibit, we discovered that the individual images were of the museum-goers themselves! Each passing visitor has the chance to sit down in front of the exhibit in an optometrist-esque setup and have a photo taken of their eye. Each day, the photo cache is cleared and the exhibit is recreated with the eyes of the new museum-goers. We even learned of the individual iris patterns, as the notions of the flower, jewel, stream and shaker designs are listed below the gallery as well. 

Natale said it best, asking “When do you ever get an opportunity to see your pupil — your eyeball — up close and personal like that? Like, that is super cool, next level and something that kinda surprises everybody.” This served as an incredibly intimate experience, allowing all visitors to be integrated into the museum’s infrastructure in a unique way. 

The last exhibition we are highlighting is Yayoi Kusama’s “Let’s Survive Forever.” This installation is a room with floor to ceiling mirrors affixed to every wall — including the ceiling — filled with reflective spheres scattered around the floor and suspended from the ceiling. On their website, WNDR explains that these spheres are made of stainless-steel, and that the mirror room is lit by LED lights that change color, creating a “kaleidoscopic effect” because of how the spheres and mirrors alter the lights. 

"Let's Survive Forever"
BALL PIT, BUT MAKE IT ART: Kusama’s installation, through the numerous mirrors and steel spheres, challenges viewers to see themselves in an unconventional way.

The middle of the room also holds a tall, reflective column with multiple peepholes that allow you to see inside of it. Looking inside the column shows an intricate expanse of silver spheres reflecting one another, reminiscent of the kaleidoscopic effect Kusama intended. 

These techniques created an endless atmosphere, offering a new angle to observe yourself and your surroundings at every turn. However, the museum does not give you a lot of time to explore and reflect on the images you discover. Each party is only allowed 60 seconds in the mirror room, intentionally giving attendees extremely limited time to absorb the new and shocking landscape they found themselves inside. Having previously faced very few “rules” regarding interacting with exhibits, this served as a uniquely wonderful experience.

Natale explained that this time limit gives a deeper meaning to the exhibit by being such a temporary experience. “That’s Kusama’s request. It’s a split second of infinity, and then it ends,” he said. “If you have too much infinity, it’s not robust. So I love the inspiration behind it — I think it preserves the beauty of the exhibit.”

This room is one of 20 mirrored rooms created by Kusama, her first spanning back to 1965. The silver spheres inside are a reference to her “Narcissus Garden” installation from Venice Biennale in 1966 where Kusama sold mirrored balls on the side of the road. “It was a commentary on the art market, and today it’s a reminder that narcissism predates selfies,” the website reads. 

WNDR’s appreciation for Kusama doesn’t end there. While the organization’s Chicago location shows Kusama’s “Dots Obsession” exhibit, the Boston museum also features an Obliteration Room, created by WNDR Studios. The Obliteration Room was designed as an homage to Kusama’s affinity for polka dots in her fashion sense and body of work. To the side of the gift shop, this room is at the bottom of a short staircase, featuring assorted statues of balloon-animal dogs. Most of the area, including the floor, walls and railings were white — save for overlapping multi-colored polka dots covering nearly every surface.

Before leaving the WNDR museum, we inquired excitedly about the future of the museum and upcoming hopes for incoming projects. Although Natale is unable to share the details, he clarified that they are worth coming back for as soon as WNDR announces them. 

“We treat everyday here like a festival,” said Natale. “We just keep on transforming, and adding and changing,” he expressed. “That’s like the coolest thing ever because you have a museum that’s here 365 days a year, if the same exhibits stay then that’s not really a good experience — the first experience is going to be really good — but the fact that we have a plan to keep on changing and evolving is really cool.” Natale specified that all WNDR museums have unique exhibits between the three locations, all of which continue to shift and evolve with time.