This Friday — Friday the 13th, to be exact — a group of MFA candidates at the University of Colorado will tap into people’s superstitions with a spooky, site-specific, one-night-only exhibition at the Newhouse Hotel. Vacancy? No, their pop-up exhibit, will feature works in a variety of mediums inspired by the aesthetics and history of the supposedly haunted hotel.
Artist Megan Gafford explains that the group was originally tasked with creating an open-ended exhibition at a site of their choice. They set off to explore Denver in search of a space that appealed to all of them.
"You're going back to Missoula, Montana."
“We wanted somewhere to incorporate public and private spaces, as well as themes of urban decay and transience,” Gafford says. “At one point the group had split up and during that time each person had visited the Newhouse. It turned out to be a perfect place for us to explore our interests.”
Choosing the Newhouse Hotel was an easy decision, she adds. The artists had already spent time researching possibly haunted hotels in the Denver area, and they were very drawn to the “seedy reputation” of the Newhouse, she says.
"Souls in Jars," details of assemblage
“The building itself is incredible, and the innkeeper told us stories about the Newhouse that were just so compelling,” Gafford says. “We got to hear about ghost stories during the Prohibition era, when politicians were supposedly traveling from the Capitol to the hotel through these underground tunnels that nobody even knows if they really exist. We want this exhibition to be a little bit spooky.”
The majority of works featured in Vacancy? No were directly inspired by the hotel, Gafford says. Out of a dozen featured artists, two are presenting work that fit right into the exhibit's concept.
“One piece we’re showing is from a filmmaker who created a video at a hotel in Seattle that was about to be destroyed, because we felt the themes were similar,” Gafford says. “Another artist works with assemblage that feature otherworldly scenes and often have a grotesque aesthetic that we thought fit into the project perfectly.”
"Apparitions," detail of installation
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Gafford's painting seminar class made the decision to make new work responding to the hotel, in a combination of mediums. At the show, she says, people will see paintings, light installations and performance art. Gafford plans on creating apparitions in the hallways of the Newhouse, playing with the haunted theme.
“We’re hoping this exhibit will be a little strange, and overall a night to remember,” Gafford says. “Not only will we see guests walking through the exhibit, but a lot of people live at the Newhouse, as well, so they’ll sort of be part of it. These are people who have lived there for more than 25 years, some of them are having had a hard time getting a lease.”
Vacancy? No will pop up for one night only at 6 p.m. Friday, November 13, at the Newhouse Hotel, 1470 Grant Street. Come by 5:30 to sign up for a tour of the hotel; the exhibit should close around 10 p.m. that night.