Mirus Gallery Brings International Urban Art Into Changing Denver

Robert Proch, "Counting Fingers," 190x340 cm, acrylic on canvas.
Robert Proch, "Counting Fingers," 190x340 cm, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Mirus Gallery
Outside the soon-to-open Mirus Gallery on a warm April day, Art Poesia, a hefty man in a baggy winter coat, unloads a U-Haul truck full of large-scale abstract paintings. He's careful not to scrape them on the concrete as he walks them into Denver’s newest commercial gallery: a duplicate of Mirus Gallery in San Francisco.

His care for the paintings is a reflection of his sour experiences shipping works through Eastern Europe, where they tend to vanish. Why? Sticky-fingered customs inspectors? Transportation mishaps? Plain bad luck? The Mirus Gallery director can’t say. But he’s just relieved that the works he’s displaying at Mirus’s grand opening on Friday, April 27, arrived intact and ready to hang.

Mirus is part of Zen Compound on Broadway. San Francisco entrepreneur Paul Hemming’s visionary Bay Area-born space is a cultural hub where people can work by day and enjoy art and music by night. The first part of the project to open, Temple Nightclub, offers a Las Vegas-style club experience – high-class dress code, bottle service and booming EDM, all with a spaceship-inspired aesthetic.

Mirus arrives in a city with nativist attitudes and fresh wounds; Denver has been bleeding local galleries and DIY spaces to the suburbs at best or watching them shut entirely at worst. Just this week, the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council gallery announced it would be closing its doors thanks to the gentrification of Denver's Art District on Santa Fe that has been fueled, in part, by the art district itself. The gallery hopes to find a new location – which could easily be the 40 West Arts District off Colfax Avenue in Lakewood, home to Denver transplant galleries like Pirate and Edge.

All the while, walls in Denver are being covered in corporate-sponsored street art, and various styles of retro abstract paintings continue to dominate commercial exhibition spaces like the William Havu Gallery. The city’s leaders and artists have been wowed by such immersive spectacles as the Santa Fe-based Meow Wolf, which will be opening a Denver outpost in early 2020, and Stuart Semple’s Happy City, his six-week citywide installation in collaboration with the Denver Theatre District, which launches in May and will address social anxiety and the pressing question of whether cities can be happy spaces.

Both Semple and Meow Wolf have spent the last year cultivating local relationships and collaborating with Denver’s artists and cultural groups. Mirus, on the other hand, will open its first show with no Mile High artists’ works on the walls – a defiant move that speaks to Hemming’s vision for Zen Compound, which he aspires to take worldwide.

click to enlarge Zepha uses graffiti-inspired letter writing to create abstract works. - COURTESY OF MIRUS
Zepha uses graffiti-inspired letter writing to create abstract works.
Courtesy of Mirus
For years, Hemming was the sole curator at Mirus. His taste leans toward mind-altering, futuristic and psychedelic works from the likes of Morten Andersen and Damon Soule, and wizardly paintings with a huge wow factor – albeit a bit more tie-dyed – that mirror the sci-fi-themed culture that Temple cultivates next door. Poesia, who has worked with Hemming on Mirus in San Francisco for the past eleven months, has more austere taste; it's much more grounded in traditional abstraction. He’s drawn to the likes of Robert Proch, Zepha, Tim Biskup and Tobias Kroeger.

While the work Poesia curates is a hodgepodge of abstract styles – geometric, figurative, text-based and gestural – it is all united by the origin stories of the artists who created it. He says all of them have backgrounds in urban art, mostly in graffiti.

Poesia values originality and relishes the process of tracing artists’ styles to their earliest days. He chronicles artists' biographies and history in the streets, championing many of the painters on display at Mirus on his blog, which he started back in 2010 to chronicle the progress of graffiti artists-turned-fine artists.

Poesia’s the first person to point out that there are no Denver artists in the show, and while some in town have griped about that, it’s simply not Mirus’s priority. The artists he displays come from all over the world. They’re respected but ancillary to the art world (even if many are sought after by collectors) and are establishing their own exhibition spaces and markets.

As a curator, Poesia's unafraid of confronting criticism of his own work – in fact, he's the first to bring it up. Debates over race, gender, sexuality and representation have dominated discussions about art in recent decades, and he largely dismisses the idea that exhibits should aspire to be inclusive of diverse identities. As he tells it, he keeps his eye on the diversity of the work and the shared backgrounds of the artists. He notes that there is just one woman in the show, and while he says he has been criticized for that, it’s a decision he can live with.

The massive stable of artists displaying works at the gallery’s opening are curated by both Hemming and Poesia and include Adam Friedman, Aec Interesni Kazki, Augustine Kofie, Bohdan Burenko, Cain Caiser, Chazme, Casey Cripe, Chris Cycle, Damon Soule, Faith XLVII, Florian, Gilbert1, Jan Kalab, Justin Bower, Kenor, Lister, Low Bros, Mars1, Morten Andersen, Nawer, NoMe Edonna, Nychos, Okuda, Oliver Vernon, Optimist, Robert Proch, Rubin, SatOne, Sickboy, Thomas Canto, Tim Biskup, Tobias Kroeger, Vesod, Yoh Nagao, Zeser and Zepha.

For Poesia, tonight's grand opening gives him a chance to show Denver's art collectors "the full catalog of Mirus Gallery. We want to show you as much of what we represent as possible. And plus, I want to get a feel for what Denver's liking, what they appreciate and what they're into. That helps me establish the calendar for the next two years."

Mirus Gallery Opening, 7 to 10 p.m., Friday, April 27, Mirus Gallery, 1144 Broadway, free.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris