Paranormal play in Denver by Meow Wolf

DENVER – Meow Wolf deals with the dark side of American popular culture, cults and conspiracies, supernatural beings, aliens and unso...


DENVER – Meow Wolf deals with the dark side of American popular culture, cults and conspiracies, supernatural beings, aliens and unsolvable puzzles. The chain of oversized immersive art installations teases visitors wandering around its dimly lit environments by dropping clues to infamous mysteries they could spend a lifetime – not to mention multiple $ 45 admission fees – trying to solve.

These spooky things feel right at home in Meow Wolf’s first two locations, Santa Fe and Las Vegas, desert towns deep in the paranormal. If your goal is to create tales of underground villains, each worthy of their own “X-Files” episode, it helps put them in places where alien sightings are common and the government does. To established secret military test sites. Northern New Mexico and southern Nevada were scary long before Meow Wolf arrived.

It’s a different story in central Colorado where Meow Wolf opened its third branch last week. Fans of the popular attraction will find its special effects familiar: cavernous rooms filled with pulsating lights and sounds, post-apocalyptic dioramas, steam punk landscapes meant to be touched, clicked, climbed, and speechless. Anyone looking to take their breath away, then again, will consider Meow Wolf to be an exciting house of entertainment.

Still, I found its ominous themes ill-suited to Denver, a good-humored city grounded in American optimism and bolstered by Western exuberance, thanks to abundant sunshine, decent traffic, and the third-lowest property taxes. from the country. In a land of high Rocky Mountains, Meow Wolf’s eerie aura seems a little out of this world. I was hoping for something more connected to the place, less corporate.

This hasn’t deterred the crowds who are thrilled to just walk inside. Denverites waited five years while the company planned and built its last location, a five-story facility built entirely in the Sun Valley industrial district for more than $ 60 million. Fate positioned Meow Wolf to represent all the fun and freedom possible at the end of the coronavirus pandemic, and buyers collected 35,000 tickets in the first 24 hours of sales earlier this month.

On September 18, when I arrived for the opening weekend, the lines were long and parking was scarce, although there were few signs of frustration with the mandatory face coverings or the inevitable collision that accompanies a place to the maximum. Denver Meow Wolf, despite himself, is a happy place.

This is due, in part, to the staff, who dress in hooded capes and glow-in-the-dark fashion accessories and keep the mythology running, which is no easy task as visitors walk through. confusing areas, like a whispering room with chatty walls; a medium’s lair offering live readings; a laundromat where the balls spin inside the windows of the dryer. Visitors can sit behind the wheel of futuristic cars, flip through books in a fake library, stroll through a neon cathedral with a playable pipe organ, or enter a beauty salon, pizzeria, or grocery store, each with its own. own surreal touch.

Somehow, these elements come together as a “Station of Convergence,” an interplanetary transit hub where different worlds connect, but where “Earthlings” remain aliens. There are sub-stories that explain everything, if you can add the clues together. One story, for example, involves a bus driver named Pam, who once steered her vehicle to the “Convergence Station” and is now missing.

If I don’t have the correct story, it’s not for lack of trying. I explored secret corridors, read texts, watched animations and asked for help from actors / workers. I paid $ 3 for a wallet-sized “Q Pass” that activated digital screens distributing clues. I spent almost three hours.

In the end, I spent an additional $ 9.50 in the gift shop for a slim paperback that gave me a better understanding of Eemia, Numina, Ossuary, and the other people and places that make up this storyline. It is possible, perhaps, that I have tried too much; The real thrill of Meow Wolf doesn’t come from enveloping you in its puzzles, but from letting its 90,000 square feet of puzzles wrap around you.

Immersive facilities like Meow Wolf come across as art, but they fit better into the entertainment category, more like Disney World Resort, than MoMA. The company involved 110 Colorado artists in this project, giving each a bit of a pitch to show off their wares and paying them for their efforts. And I recognized contributions from respected local names – a light sculpture of Collin parson, a fresco by Jaime Molina, an inflatable by Nicole banowetz – but found no signage on site attributing their efforts.

As a result, their rooms are swallowed up by the overall size of the theme park and, in fact, renamed to fit the dark and spooky Meow Wolf mode. The work of these and other artists, whose creations I have always found hopeful, vital and community-bound, felt invisible here.

This anonymity is a choice on Meow Wolf’s part, who emphasizes collaboration and resists breaking the fourth wall, and maybe it’s the right one when it comes to giving customers what they want. really want, or need, right now to escape a particularly stressful world. There are many places to contemplate fine art in a city like Denver, but few offer the retreat that Meow Wolf offers, and perhaps individual recognition is something artists and critics value more than the general public. .

But letting the local work and the intention of the artist who made it stand out was perhaps what gave the “Convergence Station” its own identity, a purpose beyond the mere fact of ‘deliver shock and awe, and set her apart from other Meow Wolf. sites. Instead, it’s the brand’s phantasmagoria that defines the place. If Meow Wolf is really art, I find it hard to make sense of it.

Immersive art may seem new because it’s all the rage now, but it has a rich history, dating back to the early work of perceptual artists like James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama (his “Hall of Infinity Mirrors – Phalli Field” was in 1965) or by adventurous theater companies, such as drunk, including the interactive adaptation “Macbeth” in 2011, “Don’t sleep anymore” questioned ideas about what a play might be.

These creators have never matched the level of public interest. Meow Wolf went like a firecracker when it opened at a former Santa Fe bowling alley in 2016. This place has quickly grown, drawing a million visitors in less than two years and inspiring dozens of imitators.

But the early pioneers showed that immersive art can be breathtaking and, at the same time, strive to say something about the human condition – something we expect art to strive for. It’s a standard and a goal that Meow Wolf, with his millions of dollars and millions of visitors, could aim for.


Ray Mark Rinaldi is an art critic in Denver.


Meow Wolf: Convergence Station

1338 1st St, Denver, Colorado, (720) 792-1200; meowwolf.com.

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