During a long and dizzying tour of the new Meow Wolf in Denver, a local writer homes in on how the immersive experience conjures a Colorado vibe.
DENVER, CO—Immerse yourself in another dimension. Explore the power of imagination. Choose your own adventure.
Meow Wolf Denver good-naturedly trots out those phrases to describe its new 90,000-square-foot iteration featuring four stories of interactive art, which opened September 17, 2021. The oddly shaped white building lies in the shadow of Denver’s football stadium and rises next to the viaducts and ramps at the confluence of Interstate 25 and Colfax Avenue.
Add this phrase to the marketing materials: experience sensory overload.
I was about halfway through a recent three-hour media preview of Meow Wolf when my brain said “enough” to the venue’s phantasmagorical and mazelike nature—sights, sounds, and textures at every turn. Instead of totally tuning out, I landed upon an aspect of the experience that had the most potential to resonate with me.
Everyone will have their own journey, so to speak, their own takeaway—Meow Wolf cultivates that idea. So I began wondering what gives the Denver location a sense of place, an alliance with its immediate surroundings that sets it apart from the original Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, which I visited a few years ago. And does this new Meow Wolf come through on its promise to involve Colorado artists?
Diverging from Santa Fe’s House of Eternal Return narrative, the Denver version is Convergence Station, referring to a coming-together of four alien worlds. Fortunately, the train station conceit at the entrance lets me know through signage that I am indeed departing “Denver” for portals unknown.
Our media contingent spent a good chunk of time in the world of Numina, a dense and dark swamp of amorphous shapes meant to conjure the inside of a sprawling plant organism. We reached it by stepping through an old, repurposed Regional Transportation District bus, which brought back memories of my pre-car college days when I used RTD all the time. But now I was a patron of the Quantum Department of Transportation, in Meow Wolf parlance, making that leap into the surreal.
Close to that bus is an immersive room by Colorado artist Kalyn Heffernan, a longtime activist for public-transit accessibility and other disability issues. Her installation, Wheelchair Space Kitchen, in collaboration with musician Gregg Ziemba, gives a wheelchair’s-eye-view of a retro kitchen.
Another well-known Colorado artist, Collin Parson, designed one of the quieter spaces in Convergence Station, a portal where doorframes subtly change colors through LED lights. Similarly, a hallway filled with enlarged photographs referencing old Colorado mining operations, designed by Kia Neill, was a nice respite.
PR materials state that Meow Wolf hired more than 110 Colorado-based artists, and looking at the list, I see several names I recognize. It was good to get to know the work of Stevon Lucero, a Latino artist who has lived and worked in Denver since 1976. He collaborated with another Denver artist, Molina Speaks, for Indigenous Futurist Dreamscape Lounge, a 360-degree mural based on an indelible dream of Lucero’s involving cycles of life.
Meow Wolf has stated that it’s committed to responding to the character of the neighborhood where it’s chosen to locate—Sun Valley, a low-income and largely Latino area. Business and tourism officials express hope that Sun Valley will see an economic boost as Meow Wolf attracts hordes of visitors.
Many of the food and beverage partners for HELLOFOOD, the ground-floor restaurant, are Denver-based. The small concert venue, the Perplexiplex, promises to feature Colorado musicians.
The storytellers of Convergence Station must forgive me for not even beginning to unlock the secrets and puzzles embedded in the narrative. Looking at media coverage (and there’s been an astronomical amount of it), I realize I missed a lot, including Help Save My World, inspired by Native American history in Colorado.
In Eemia Ice World, I could have gained more appreciation for the interactive nature that characterizes Meow Wolf. The area features a ship’s wheel that visitors can turn to rotate the ceiling and an organ that beckons you to pull handles to create sound.
Our tour guide treated us to a fantastic laser light show, the three-year project of Santa Fe-based light artist Christopher Short. And somewhere in Convergence Station (I was too lost to know which world), we came across a delightful little crawl-in installation by Colorado artist Adam Christopher that gave a prairie-dog’s-eye view of the Front Range.
Twice, I landed upon small but intentional signs: one for “Cinder Alley” in the now-demolished Cinderella City shopping complex, and one for the Denver Drumstick, a one-time institution among the city’s restaurants. And I was cosmically transported back to being a kid—well, just for a moment.
There are no doubt plenty of ways that Meow Wolf trips through time and memory to give attention to Colorado and its idiosyncratic vibe, that much came through. And I’m certainly in awe of the years of work by the state’s bounty of artists, designers, light and sound programmers, fabricators, and others. Is Meow Wolf Denver a work of art, or an agglomeration of psychedelic design ideas? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
For now, I’m fine with “immersive art”—to the max; an art critic thumbs-up or thumbs-down seems beside the point. In any case, I was happy to have experienced just a few of those “is it Colorado, or is it another intergalactic dimension?” moments, to have traveled through my own personal timeline—and to eventually burst free and out into the Mile High City sunshine.