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Colorado Creatives Redux: Ivar Zeile

An audience takes in the Supernova competition program at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.EXPAND
An audience takes in the Supernova competition program at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.
Courtesy of Denver Digerati

When we first feted Ivar Zeile in the Colorado Creatives series in 2014, he was still primarily directing his late, great Plus Gallery and its impressive stable of artists. He had just begun to take an interest in using downtown Denver’s giant LED screens for digital-animation screenings for his side gig running the still-young Denver Digerati platform. But what began that year as the three-night open-air Friday Flash summer series at 14th and Champa streets has since segued into the much bigger, and totally unprecedented, Supernova Digital Animation Festival, which is gearing up for its fourth iteration in September. And the Plus presence hasn’t disappeared altogether, either: It continues to pop up from time to time in temporary spaces for shows big and small, including sculptor Mike Whiting’s current solo exhibition, the last show in 808 Projects before Rule Gallery takes the space over.

It takes a lot of enthusiasm to juggle so many big and small projects, but Zeile has more than enough zeal for the work: Get a handle on his world as he grapples with the CC Redux questionnaire.

Mike Whiting's Plus Gallery exhibition Daily Driver, partial installation view.EXPAND
Mike Whiting's Plus Gallery exhibition Daily Driver, partial installation view.
Courtesy of Plus Gallery

Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?

Ivar Zeile: I feel very fortunate to have such a robust and diverse creative life. That’s always been the case, but even more so since the last questionnaire, largely because I’m not tied down to a physical space anymore, but also because of Denver Digerati’s growth, which in 2016 led to the advent of Supernova. I think I’m more effective when I don’t have a regular, repetitive schedule — my own creative juices flow better within a more open-ended framework. My best ideas still generally come while taking a morning bath, though!

All things considered, I’m still largely doing much the same stuff, just under different circumstances, which has allowed more room for personal interests outside of my art focus to provide a healthier life balance, something I struggled to achieve prior to turning fifty. There is plenty of suffering every day, mostly mental, occasionally physical, but I’ve always considered myself a glass-half-full person in this life. Every day that I wake up and can continue to pursue my interests without selling out is a compelling enough reason to keep steady.

While it’s often difficult to rectify with others what I’ve been doing with Plus Gallery as an ongoing interest, I still relish finding ways to support some of the key artists who have always been the gallery’s core, in addition to working with long-term clients, many of whom still value my positions on art. The trajectory and growth within Denver Digerati has certainly been something I never sought or had imagined keeping pace with, but there is not a single day that I’m not deeply motivated by its evolution and future potential.

Mike Whiting's Plus Gallery exhibition Daily Driver, partial installation view.EXPAND
Mike Whiting's Plus Gallery exhibition Daily Driver, partial installation view.
Courtesy of Plus Gallery

As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver?

Glad you asked, but I’m going to flip this a bit. I’ve grown more of the mindframe that perfection is a grand illusion, and one that perhaps we should steer clear away from. It’s far better to recognize that loss is part of life, and that what constitutes “better times” may always be what has already transpired. That’s not to mean that we don’t strive for better within our community and ourselves, but that there really might not be a holy grail, maybe just constant rebirths or shifts amongst generations that have always been part of growth and development. So instead of presenting my vision for a more perfect Denver, here is what I submitted to Modern in Denver for their ten-year anniversary issue, based on the premise of how I see Denver ten years from now (which was never published):

"It’s 2028, the majority of Denver is covered in mural art — graffiti or mural art covered with graffiti — except the sprawling new Youtube campus, which is lined with LEDs displaying gaming content 24/7 and topped by lush gardens of next-generation cannabis, which grows so tall as to touch the clouds. A massive cat lies on its back, with grossly elongated paws raised into the air at the center of the campus. Made of blue-tinted stainless steel, the city’s latest two million dollar public sculpture has a giant video screen nestled above the anus, featuring a barrage of cat videos uploaded daily by company employees (approximately half the city’s residents).

"Kitty-corner to the campus is Meow Wolf, set for completion in 2032. Across town in BroNo (formerly RiNo), lies the world’s largest conglomeration of A.I.-run brew-pubs and Sensory Enhancement Medical Stations (SEMS). A wide array of spray paint is sold through vending machines lining the streets, a percentage of proceeds assisting middle-class families housed in Thornton. The Arts District on Santa Fe has developed a Hunger Games vibe, with individual artists paraded every Friday night for potential yearlong servitude to Cherry Creek residents. Complimentary valet parking is provided throughout the district by the Mayor’s office for anyone driving a Ferrari, Lambo or Tesla Mach IX."

A young visitor at RedLine's Supernova exhibition peruses a video installation by Katie Torn.EXPAND
A young visitor at RedLine's Supernova exhibition peruses a video installation by Katie Torn.
Courtesy of Denver Digerati

As a gallerist and curator, how would you size up the current climate in the local art world?

I still favor what is possible within a limited-scale, sophisticated contemporary gallery context, which I think is gradually and quite sadly diminishing in Denver. But I don’t think that’s specific to our community; it’s more a result of a greater cultural poisoning that’s occurring. Big money is causing havoc not just within the niche art industries, but across all layers of life. Limited attention spans, lack of knowledge, art fairs and instant gratifica- tion are also creating a diminished relationship to what I think is some of the more compelling art being produced.

I just experienced the First Friday art walk on Santa Fe Drive last week, which coincided with the launch of Mike Whiting’s solo exhibition Daily Driver, and while it was certainly a spectacle on the street, I couldn’t help but feel that we existed inside a fishbowl that only select few were willing to experience in light of the carnival taking place on the street. Art has never really played by the rules, but once those rules are broken so many times, I find it a little tougher to get back to a good place, or at least one that I find most comforting.

I gasped while driving down Navajo Street the other day — I could hardly recognize what used to be one of our city’s most revered co-op art zones, just a stone’s throw from Denver's core. The recent news that Gildar Gallery is leaving will certainly have the same impact while traveling on Broadway. The Golden Triangle Creative District recently lost several good private galleries, which is a shame, even though Gallery 1261 relocated.

Yet the scene grows, entities move or shift, and there seems to be an infinite number of ways for artists to get their work shown. MCA Denver continues to put forth both engaging shows and special platforms intended to draw a younger generation while still appeasing older folks. That’s a tough balancing act, for sure, and it doesn’t always work for me, but at least it offers a credible lens into a dynamic approach.

Students from Pine Creek High School, Colorado Springs, visit the Supernova exhibition 2019 at RedLine.EXPAND
Students from Pine Creek High School, Colorado Springs, visit the Supernova exhibition 2019 at RedLine.
Courtesy of Denver Digerati

I haven’t been inspired as much by the Denver Art Museum lately, though to be honest, each year they still manage to present a jaw-dropping contemporary show, like Jeffrey Gibson in 2018 or the current solo by Jordan Casteel, which is easily one of the most compelling painting shows I’ve witnessed anywhere in recent years. I appreciate the new sense of purpose Jeff Lambson has brought back to the Emmanuel Gallery with his approach and connections, and also Rick Daily’s spectacular sensibilities at RMCAD’s Phillip J. Steele Gallery. Both of those curators bring a very welcome and genuinely “human” connection to the scene.

I also very much enjoyed working closely with RedLine’s staff last year on a major show for Supernova, particularly Djamila Ricciardi, their visitor and volunteer services manager. She was simply heroic and looped me into so many tours that were running through the space that I really enjoyed. Understudy is also occasionally a gem for art in Denver. I’ve had some connection to the space, so I shouldn’t brag too much about it, but it’s clearly offering a nice alternative to the mainstream.

Aram Bartholl's conceptual new-media installation at Emmanuel Gallery.EXPAND
Aram Bartholl's conceptual new-media installation at Emmanuel Gallery.
Courtesy of Ivar Zeile

It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area, who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?

I think artists and creatives will always find a way to exist and create in cities going through the kinds of major transformations that are currently reshaping Denver, though the vibe certainly shifts in ways that might be less inspirational than in years past. Like where the fuck is Andenken Gallery when you need it?

Artists should, however, leave. Why not? There is no reason not to pursue opportunity, whether in more robust markets suited to one’s talent or ambitions, or to consider relocating to more remote locations where financial constraints may be more diminished and perhaps there’s a greater ability to focus on creating. Any decision one makes will hopefully lead to growth — one never really knows what is around the corner at any time, and the idea that every decision leads to new possibilities is something I’m a big proponent of.

The Internet is constantly changing the dynamics of what is possible for artists and creatives, for better or worse. Nobody really knows. Snake oil doesn’t get much more snaky than its current incarnation, but as parts of the soul collapse, other elements materialize to fill the void, just as it’s always been. I think it’s a challenging time to make “best” decisions, but when is it ever not? There will always be institutions with financial resources putting forward work by local artists, though their internal mechanisms aren’t always balanced in favor of the artists themselves.

All together, I see Denver maybe becoming more like San Francisco, where there’s not much of an advanced contemporary scene led by risk-taking galleries that are supported by the local public, but still a lot of art to take in. I hope not, but that needing to make a living thing and be patted on the back occasionally can certainly cause stress for even the most resolute artists.

What’s your dream project?

My dream project is Supernova Digital Motion Art Festival, which has been a large percentage of my focus for the last four years. I can dream even bigger, but I prefer to chip away one stone at a time. The fact that this project sprouted in Denver is really so very unlikely, but that’s also the beauty of it and one of the reasons I embrace it so readily. That, and the artists I get to associate and work with, both locally and from all corners of the globe. I’ve really come to admire the talent and community that this project inspires, and am constantly trying to find ways to further entrench and expand it.

This year is no exception. The pulse is so vital, and opportunity seems to come knocking as opposed to the project requiring a bulldozer to clear the path forward. The whole idea from the beginning was to create a viable new concept for digital animation as a new form of public art via the use of outdoor LED screens. And after seven years of experimentation, we have actually arrived at a singular methodology that I’ve been implementing on a continuous basis on the 16th and Arapahoe screen for over a year now. It sure excites me, not because it's even remotely where it can be, but because it's much further along than anywhere else.

What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?

It’s pretty easy to understand why most people respond readily to images of cute cats, majestic horses, street art, tattoos and political propaganda, and not so much to thought-provoking or challenging contemporary art. You can choose to be like most people, or you can choose to be poor, maybe respected and cool.

- Don’t be afraid to reach out to peers in your community for advice or for coffee. Make friends, but don’t get hooked up in a cult or strive to create one of your own.
- Open your mind a little wider than you might think possible.
- Art institutions are like vampires, requiring fresh blood in order to live, forever.
- Read the New Yorker. Also spend more time reading books, and not on your handheld device.
- Don’t ever consider your own work better than someone else’s. Hang their art on your wall, not your own.
- Give more than you take.
- Don’t be “that asshole.”

Ryan Wurst shows off his dissertation booklet at the bar.EXPAND
Ryan Wurst shows off his dissertation booklet at the bar.
Courtesy of Ivar Zeile

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

That’s easy: Ryan Wurst. Look him up, go have beers with him before he leaves Colorado. He just finished his Ph.D. in Sonic Arts at CU Boulder and is a genius, the really cool kind. Enough said.

What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?

Way, way, way too much, but all stuff I love. Right now through Plus Gallery I’m hosting Mike Whiting’s exhibi- tion Daily Driver, an awe-inspiring followup to last year’s Pixelated at Denver Botanic Gardens and his first gallery solo since 2010. Every minute I walk in the door at 808 Projects for this collaboration I have to pinch myself and remember how much I revere Mike’s approach to art, as well as hosting terrific contemporary art exhibitions.

I’m also working on this year’s Supernova Festival, which will be billed as Supernova Goes Viral, based on new developments that I could not be more excited about. I don’t want to reveal too much, but we’ll have additional screens hosting our competition and programming throughout Denver this year, and will also have our very first host-screen in a different state, with a public-facing LED screen that puts most of ours to shame.

It’s going to be unbelievable to share our work with a completely new community in a context that should come with a huge audience attached. l also have a plan in place to give artists a stipend for their works to be shown this year, with an additional bump if used to travel to Denver for Supernova. And an app: I am currently working on developing an app that would share Supernova’s phenomenal content so that people from all over the world can finally see what we’ve been supporting here the last few years. If all goes well, it will also be used for voting for this year’s first-ever “people’s choice cash-prize award.” And, oh, hell, why not — I am currently in discussions with the Biennial of the Americas toward the coolest-ever LED-based project presented anywhere.

I’m also hopeful to be curating the launch of a new, permanent video-mapping concept for downtown Denver to kick off this year’s festival. I could go on and on; my head is constantly exploding with the potential that will descend on Denver this fall. Now is certainly a great time for anyone in the community with any common sense or passion for innovation in the arts to become a Supernova sponsor or involved in this year’s festival.

Just recently, I was asked to jury RedLine’s annual juried exhibition, which will take place in August, so that’s now on the plate. In July I’m presenting a session on digital animation to high school students at the LYNX National Arts and Media Camp hosted by CU Denver’s College of Arts and Media. And in October I believe I’m off to Bend, Oregon, to host a workshop for the annual BND DSGN (Beyond Design) conference. I will also be on a panel there with one of my favorite non-Colorado creatives, Peter Burr, who we should just grandfather in for all the inspiring works he’s presented to the community here over the years.

When that’s all done, I’ll be checking into AA: artworld anonymous.

Mike Whiting with his own version of a BMW Art Car at 808 Projects for Daily Driver.
Mike Whiting with his own version of a BMW Art Car at 808 Projects for Daily Driver.
Courtesy of Plus Gallery

Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

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There are so many wonderful and talented artists in this community deserving of recognition, though unfortu- nately I think the paths for recognition are becoming increasingly more dim. I noticed just a couple of weeks ago that the Best of Denver Westword issue, for the first time ever [I believe] did not recognize any commercial art gallery or cover that part of the scene, unless I somehow missed it. That’s a very telling and very unfortunate statement of the times.

Certainly Westword’s work with Colorado Creatives and helping everyone know what’s on tap each week in the art scene promotes the wide extent of what’s here and how great it is. But outside of that, I would absolutely single out Gretchen Schaefer’s outstanding work with RMCAD’s annual VASD series, and feel that anyone in the broader arts community not breaking down the doors to check it out should be ashamed of themselves. Gretchen puts together a first-rate program, which in my opinion is the most impressive education forum in Denver’s contemporary scene since the days when Dianne Vanderlip used to present lectures at the DAM.

Plus Gallery’s pop-up exhibit Mike Whiting: Daily Driver runs through May 12 at 808 Projects, 808 Santa Fe Drive. Learn more on the Plus Gallery website.

Stay tuned for Supernova 2019, coming up on September 19 through 21 in the Denver Theatre District. Keep up with Ivar Zeile, Denver Digerati and Supernova news online.

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