NEW YORK-If someone said Morgan first when she co-founded New York-based immersive storytelling company Catching Flights that one day she led an experiment where every square inch of a 26,000 square foot venue was hand-painted, she would probably say (just like Alice once did to the Mad Hatter), “you guys are fucking nuts”.
And yet, on October 7, First debuted dreams of wonderland, an art exhibition like no other, hosted by DC-born artist Alexa Meade. It’s the product of a five-year partnership, which began when the two creatives met at the launch of First’s Rosé Mansion in 2018. And after a light bulb moment where large dinner tables adorned with cakes were recalled to First Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandshe told BizBash that she “knew that leaning into this story not only provided a rich context of fun and colorful worlds to play with, but also [would] help us reach a much wider audience of people who could connect with the nostalgia of history.Photo: Mike MonaghanPhoto: Lory Lyon
The result is down the rabbit hole – almost literally – at 529 Fifth Ave. in Midtown Manhattan, occupying the ground and lower floors of the 20-story building. Entering through a rainbow archway, ticketed guests descend a multicolored staircase and are transported to a choose-your-own wonderland.
“At the bottom of the stairs, [guests] are literally faced with a large mirror or painting that they can step right into and begin the experience,” First explained.Photo: Mike Monaghan
The self-guided tour includes over 20 dreamscapes that blur the lines between 2D and 3D art. One space leads guests into a field of floral roses under cloudy skies through a keyhole shaped entrance. Another is an illusion of black and white geometric shapes, while a third room with patterned walls and multicolored lights changes the perception of the painting as the lights flash red, green or blue.
“We really created a space for adults and children to play, to feel creative and to really [experience] a light and dreamy escape,” First added.
Another fun touchpoint? Guests can put on “diffraction goggles and make their way through our dancing spandex forest,” First pointed out, or contribute to one of Meade’s patterned walls by drawing on stickers and adding to a painting. mural made by the participants.Photo: Alek MichaudPhoto: Lory Lyon
And when they’re not riding a golden rocking horse, assuming the throne as Queen of Hearts, or building a house of cards with oversized playing cards, guests can sit down to tea from the mad hatter, where objects like teapots and cups, cakes, and even chairs and cutlery look like they’ve been pulled straight from a two-dimensional painting and brought into the three-dimensional world. (The tea table was built by Cultivate in the studio.)
The pattern has been applied to the on-site wine bar and cafee, take guests to wine and dine in the exhibit. First teased that “more are still coming here, but we’re building a story-filled bar where patrons can keep getting into stories with their drinks.” For now, coffeeé is, of course, serving sparkling wine and cakes.Photo: Mike Monaghan
Unlike an art gallery where framed paintings line the walls of a room like a blank canvas, dreams of wonderland invites its viewers to become part of the art. And while First attributed the immersive nature of the exhibit to its success, she noted that “while building something amazing is a lot of work, sharing a whole new concept with the world is always a challenge, because people don’t always know what to compare it to.
“We are not your traditional pop-up”, first imposed, inviting guests to come and see dreams of wonderland for themselves through April 2023. The exhibit is open daily except Tuesdays, with tickets starting at $26 for children and $36 for adults.Photo: Phoebe Lucienne