With a location in Denver, Meow Wolf expands his immersive Schtick

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DENVER – “Do you have a vape pen or invisible gun?” the security guard asked, looking in my bag as I walked through a metal detector. Meow Wolf’s immersive schtick is back in business with the opening of a new 90,000 square foot franchise in Denver. In Santa Fe, visitors enter the multiverse through a house, and in Las Vegas, it is a grocery store. The final gate is a transportation hub, perfect for a site wedged between a freeway junction, a freeway, and a road leading to the Broncos football stadium. For the sake of journalism, I masked myself and traveled to another era on another planet, where unions are undesirable and inflation rampant, with the entry price of $ 45.

As in any lobby, travelers have a choice of several doors. I chose an elevator that opened onto a futuristic urban street. The space was confusing at first, with no apparent route or purpose, but eventually I found an art gallery that accessed a hallway of televisions. From there I sort of came to a huge garden that looked like a Rainforest Café run by Guillermo del Toro. There were balconies overlooking a full-size chapel and a labyrinth of interesting interactive rooms.

Meow Wolf encourages visitors to turn each wheel, pull each lever, and reveal a new space behind each door, making it seem like we are all curious explorers on a pilgrimage. Everything was lovely until I noticed people walking around in straw rain coats. When I was approached with greetings that lacked the charisma of the actors of a local Renaissance fair, I realized that they were performers and I was never able to find the meaning of immersion.

Meow Wolf’s last franchise in Denver, Convergence Station (Image courtesy of Kate Russell and Meow Wolf)

At a 2018 Denver Artist-Managed Spaces Symposium that included gallery representatives from Regina Rex (now closed), Good Weather and the multi-city network Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Los Angeles-based artist Alex Paik argued that Meow Wolf is damning to performers because he teaches audiences that fun is art. I was surprised to see the venue nod, especially since it was difficult to find an artist in Denver who was not at some stage of a proposal to work with the company that year. The classist statement is ridiculous because Meow Wolf is not teaching the public anything.

When reviewer Ben Davis coined the term “Big Fun Art” in response to Meow Wolf, people were already lining up for another Kusama overflow room and selfie-friendly exhibit; the power of the unique work had been eroding in museums for years. A carefully curated Monet exhibition? No, we need 100 Monets! Rare Japanese prints? Boring. I need steel that looks like a balloon made by an unnamed maker! If your show lacks enough shows, a lineup should do the trick, like Daimyo for a Day, in which a child can be a warchief. “The Disneyfication of culture is over,” Heather Havrilesky wrote of our voracious consumption of something as pure and authentic as art, in her essay “The Happiest Place on Earth”.

Bedroom created by Denver artist Frankie inside Meow Wolf’s Denver franchise (Image courtesy of the artist)

The fact that the number of artists employed by Meow Wolf is easier to know than their names illustrates the commodified fantasy. The company’s mastery of the smoke and mirrors of the art market is its most impressive illusion. For example, it bragged about 100,000 ticket sales before Denver’s opening day, but it’s unclear whether that includes the free but paid public preview weeks. Additionally, inquiries about improving accessibility at the Denver site were addressed by a memo that was not approved for publication.

The real wormhole to another dimension exists in Meow Wolf’s finances. In 2017, the New Mexico Department of Economic Development predicted the company would have an economic impact of $ 1.5 billion on the state for 10 years. Fresh out of a successful fundraising campaign, with 83 employees on the payroll, but costs outpacing income and nearly $ 20 million in debt, the future looked bright (but not Billion brilliant), which makes this curious explorer wonder what is included in Economic impact? Hyperallergic obtained the report and found that the impact included projected income and property taxes paid by the New Mexico site, and withholding taxes on the income, property, and expenses of 325 employees earning $ 50,000 per year and 111 “indirect workers” earning $ 81,000. The $ 1.5 billion also included taxable expenses for tourists to New Mexico who frequent Meow Wolf. Today, the company employs 300 people in several states.

Inside the Meow Wolf Convergence Station in Denver, Colorado (Image courtesy of Kate Russell and Meow Wolf)

Meow Wolf told Forbes this year he expects to have an economic impact of $ 2.5 billion, highlighting the authority of the 2017 report, this year’s first positive numbers and the most successful fundraising campaign. recent, which grossed $ 158 million. Terms like “economic impact” play musical chairs with “taxable sales” in various news articles, but they are not the same. Sure, three locations are better than one for sales, but American businesses don’t pay taxes when costs exceed revenues, and investing in stocks isn’t income. It turns out that Big Fun Art contains some very exciting math.

As Vincent van Gogh’s 30-foot phosphorescent replicas roam the country without seriously affecting the integrity of the originals, it’s presumptuous to say that Meow Wolf is either a predator or a protector of art and artistic ecosystems. Meow Wolf is no more its rambling origin story than Apple is a game of table tennis on a green computer screen. It’s just a young, growing, for-profit company that needs to sell tickets.

Meow Wolf Denver (1338 1st Street, Denver) is now open to the public.

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