The 5 pm deadline was hours away on Friday, Feb. 12, and the members of Meow Wolf were darting in and out of the ramshackle space they use as their gallery. Work was being hung and more work was arriving by the folder-full. One of the members was slathering black silicone onto his sculpture—an homage to the Monsanto terminator seed. There were no name tags or prices yet posted, and empty beer bottles cluttered the surfaces where sculptures would soon go.
The latest installment in Meow Wolf’s unpredictable programming is a group show (arguably in celebration of the collective’s second birthday) involving artists who are not technically part of the collective—but it maintains the (anti)aesthetic and attitude of its other projects. The walls are covered floor-to-ceiling with work that is all-inclusive: If you wanted in, you got in; there were no rules. This was typified by the woman who arrived a few minutes after I did.
“I didn’t end up making a wall piece. What can I do about a pedestal?” she asked.
“You’re fucked,” was the reply.
Members clearly do not have pedestals just lying around; they’d be more inclined to haul in something from the front yard. True to form, it was suggested the artist use a bucket. The exchange suits the timbre of the space nicely. The members seem unconcerned with established notions of presentation, and they were unfazed by the artist’s change of plans. They rely on self-sufficiency to make it work.
Next came the issue of placement. As more work arrived, the members discussed sight lines and doorway access. Since there were already a number of pedestals around and space was getting tight, one of the members mentioned no one had put a piece in the bathroom.
“People have lots of time to contemplate in there,” he said. Perhaps, I thought, but I don’t know too many people who go to art openings to sit on the can.
“That’s a good idea!” the artist said.
Shows you what I know.
Whether one thinks the bathroom is a unique opportunity or not, the suggestion wasn’t condescending, and it points to something I appreciate about Meow Wolf in general: Namely, the work speaks for itself, no matter where you put it. The important thing is to show it.
As in previous exhibitions, the strength of the new show is in quantity. Much of the work is unframed and decidedly not archival, but the aggressive styles and brash subjects generate momentum. The works form constellations, arranged according to space rather than similarity. This too is in keeping with the Meow Wolf approach—more is never enough—and the vibe of the room compensates for any dead spots. The show may not be as conceptually compelling as other Meow Wolf projects, but it is still ambitious. I am consistently impressed by the energy of the work I see, both by the members and the community. Love it or hate it, Meow Wolf is a place to see something different.
While meandering through the salon, one of the members began quizzing me.
“Are you going to write something about us?” he asked with either nonchalance or actual disinterest. Immediately he tempered this with, “I mean, I couldn’t care less. The more underground it stays, the better.”
Considering the group’s inclusion in Linda Durham Contemporary's GEODECADENT* exhibition (running concurrent with the SITE Santa Fe Biennial this summer) and its mention in The New York Times, I said I thought it was doing a shitty job of staying underground. And if this show is any indication, there is a large group of locals who want a piece of the action.
As I was leaving, one of the members paused for a moment to assess the remaining gaps on the walls. Nodding, he said, “When it gets to the point where you can’t find space, that’s a good thing.”
I just hope they save enough room for themselves.
Meow Wolf Group Show
Through Feb. 20
1800 Second St.
*This article originally implied that Meow Wolf would be included in the SITE SANTA FE Biennial. SFR regrets the error.