Wonderspaces Brings Interactive Art, Massive Visuals, and Deep Questions to Fashion District Philadelphia
Transcendent, fantastical, larger-than-life-- this is Wonderspaces.
A new interactive space is taking place in Philly, with the latest in technology and experiential art. Wonderspaces brings participatory art installations from artists from around the world, each inviting and challenging the viewer to think, feel, and become a part of the piece. From (digital) painting with your body to contemplating the unspoken, it is both ambitious and fantastical. The two-story 24,000 square foot gallery space is open at Fashion District, and you’ll definitely want to bring the whole family to experience it- don’t miss our new discount code down below!
The 14 inaugural installations come from previous pop-up exhibits such as Sundance and Burning Man, and have found their “second life” here in Philly. Over time, certain pieces will be cycled out to make way for new installations and keep the gallery fresh. They are in talks with local artists for future collaborations, to honor our city’s rich art scene alongside Wonderspaces’ international pieces. For now, the pieces range from John Edmark’s small-scale 3D-printed spinning sculptures that appear to “bloom” under strobe lights, to a giant room of over 8,000 stringed lights that are programmed to the soundscape (“Submergence” by Squidsoup). As of October 2021 several new exhibits have opened including Matthew Matthew’s On a Human Scale and Candy Chang’s Before I Die. On a Human Scale is a project which unites voices and faces of the world through technology. The project started as an experiment, by filming everyday New Yorkers singing. The individual voices are woven into an interactive instrument which visitors are invited to play, bringing the immersive audio-visual installation to life. Before I Die is a global participatory public art project that reimagines our relationship with death and with one another in the public realm. Originally created by artist Candy Chang in New Orleans after the death of a loved one, the artwork invites people to reflect and share their personal aspirations in public.
A standout favorite for little ones will be “Body Paint” by Memo Akten, where your movements are interpreted by sensors to create “paint” streaks of different colors on a giant wall. Plan to spin and dance across that one for a very long time. Similarly, “SUN” by Phillip Schutte allows the viewer to make the sun rise and set on a floor-to-ceiling landscape screen, simply by moving around a giant ball.
There are also two virtual reality installations—a dinner party-turned-alien abduction, and the afterlife. In case those themes didn’t tip you off, those are decidedly not for kids, so swap off with another grownup if you want to see them.
On the more contemplative side, “The Last Word” by Illegal Art recalls the Western Wall, inviting visitors to leave rolled-up notes in its honeycomb-like spaces. But instead of prayers, it asks you to write something you wish you had said, or could say. Completed notes have red edges, so the appearance of the piece will change over time—and also so you know which ones you can pull out and read, connecting with past visitors’ innermost thoughts.
From the candy-colored room-sized string piece “Sweet Spot” (by Shawn Causey and Mark Daniell) to a suspended sculpture of pink spools becoming a raised fist depending on where you stand (“Come Together” by Michael Murphy, inspired by the Women’s March), so many of these pieces change as your body changes and interacts with them. How you see them completely depends on where you stand, walk, and look.
Wonderspaces’ Co-Founder and President Jason Shin described the goal of the project: “We believe taking art to unexpected places is a key part of creating the next generation of art lovers, and making art more accessible is a core part of our mission. Wonderspaces invites new audiences from the greater Philadelphia region to engage with extraordinary art in a fun, casual setting.” The playful elements, as well as the cocktail and snack bar (you can even bring your drink with you to most of the exhibits!), certainly add to this atmosphere.
While Wonderspaces is fun and highly Instagrammable, it will take you beyond accumulating some photos on your phone and ask bigger questions about what it means to interpret, collaborate, and view art.
When is art “complete”—when the artist makes the last stroke, or when it is viewed and experienced?
How does art derive meaning—are the artist’s intentions paramount, or the viewer’s impressions… or both?
It does not seem at first while dancing across a screen with a giant ball or twirling through the begging-for-Instagram lights of “Submergence” that these may be the questions you’ll be asking yourself. But as we became more and more immersed in the wonder that is Wonderspaces—and as I watched our five-year-old create sound, color, and energy—these are the big themes that I kept coming back to.
Due to its proximity to Candytopia—as well as its similar Instagram factor—comparisons are inevitable with Wonderspaces’ neighbor in the Fashion District. And while both attractions have bold visuals, interactivity, and an all-ages appeal, they are as different as night and day—or perhaps as different as Wonka and Warhol.
Know Before You Go
New fall hours for these and continuing art installations are: Wednesday to Friday, 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Saturday, 10:00 am to 10:00 pm and Sunday, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Wonderspaces is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wonderspaces Philadelphia is located at 27 N 11th St, with entrances located both inside the Fashion District and outside on 11th Street. Timed tickets are available online; and are $24 for adults, $15 for kids ages 3-12, and free for kids under 3. Discounts apply for students, seniors, and members of the Military. Your ticket is for a specific date and time and is only valid for that date and time. If you miss your timeslot, your ticket is no longer valid. Memberships are also available. For a limited time use our Philly Family Discount code AfterHours (valid through 12/31/2021).
Once you arrive, plan to sign a waiver at the iPads, and then spend roughly 90 minutes exploring (though there is no time limit, and you can go back to installations you have previously seen if you want to see them again before you leave).
Due to flashing lights and other effects, some installations may be ill-suited for those with epilepsy or other photosensitivity. Rooms that have such effects have warnings by the door, so be sure to keep an eye out for those graphics before going in.
Strollers are allowed, and the space is ADA accessible, including an elevator from the first floor to the second. For certain installations, you may need to park your stroller. Food and drinks (including wine, beer, and cocktails!) are available on site, and you can bring them around to most installations; outside food and drink are not permitted.
There are bathrooms within Wonderspaces (no having to leave to find one in the mall!), including a family restroom with a changing table.
You can get to Wonderspaces by local and regional transit lines. For PATCO, use the 8th & Market station. For SEPTA, use the Jefferson Station (Filbert or 11th St. entrances), Reading Terminal Headhouse (12th & Market entrance), or the 11th & Market entrance on the Market-Frankford Line. You can also park at select nearby garages for $10 with validation at Wonderspaces.
Photographs by Laura Swartz.