The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 40: ASSASSINATION: Ivar Zeile, Director of Plus Gallery (Part One)

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Ivar, Karen Sanders, and Udo Zeile at the art fair booth. Courtesy of Facebook.
Karen McClanahan upstairs at the new Plus Gallery. Courtesy of Plus Gallery.

Shifting directions in the direction of my interview conceptual art project (not an institutional critique but a documentary approach), I decided to check out the funky path that is being forged in a relatively emerging art market in Denver, where it’s not just cowboys and Coors Light being tapped fresh from the lovely Rocky Mountains. Ivar Zeile, a close friend, has been providing some of the challenging work, both figurative and abstract, within the Mountain West region at his well-respected Plus Gallery. In my assessment, he is one of the most foremost gallerists (I think he is the best in this region easily) with his broad intellectual stance, playful nature, gentle understanding of the richness of life, and intimate commitment to what his artists want without interference.

Plus Gallery is like one of the best baseball teams I have seen in terms of having depth and variety in its bench. The performance has been more consistent than my beloved New York Yankees as of late and so I am grateful to have this chance to probe into this new space which is nearing its end of construction at 2501 Larimer Street in March, supposedly when spring is bu(r)sting out all over. Peep the facts and enjoy the ride through the mile high city’s hidden treasure.

If you have any questions about any of the artwork being featured at Plus Gallery, feel free to contact Ivar Zeile at ivar@plusgallery.com or at (303) 296-0927.

Now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s revealed details of this reputed “assassination”:

qi peng: Plus Gallery, back in the day, used to be known as the Cordell Taylor Gallery. What is the story of how the original incarnation of the current gallery was born? How did you get a chance to meet with Cordell Taylor, a Salt Lake City-based artist, and begin to curate shows?

Ivar Zeile: Cordell began his gallery in SLC about 16 years or so ago, it started in the back of his studio which at the time was located right next to the Red-Rocks Brew-pub.  The gallery portion of his space was very small but Cordell started to exhibit artists works there and I became a big fan.  I lived right behind his studio in a small hovel called “Tito’s garage” which was tucked back down the alley at the East end of the Greek Church apartments.  I was mostly doing custom design work and whenever I’d get a creative job I’d try to pull Cordell in to fabricate elements for me, we hit it off right away and I was definitely hooked on his wild-man cowboy-contemporary artist sensibility.  Plus he was a great fabricator, his sculptures in steel were very inspiring to my design work.

I bought my first “real” work of art from Cordell’s gallery at some point and the experience definitely had a profound effect on me.  The painting was “The Lemon Eaters” by Lenka Konopasek who was Cordell’s girlfriend at the time and now wife.  The painting cost me $750, which at my age then was a lot, but I decided to make the move away from my poster collection and other miscellaneous junk I considered as art.

Along with my design business I was also dabbling with visual art and engrossed in studying the international contemporary scene.  Cordell and I collaborated on an installation piece outside his original gallery one weekend, the piece involved a massive screen-wall made of ice-blocks in which I projected abstract images of my paintings onto.  That installation became the birth of a non-profit group we created (along with several other SLC friends) known as Surface, which in its day was well regarded.  The idea with the group was to finance and promote non-traditional artworks or projects that wouldn’t be able to draw public funds or be attractive to a public venue.  Our most significant project was “Fear of Graven Images” which was pretty spectacular and something very specific for the local environment. The artist Randal Meyers had created some incredibly complex works that basically commented on the inner-secrets of the Mormon Church.  His purpose was to get excommunicated from the Church, the exhibition coinciding with the annual church conference.  Meyers had some deep psychological issues to deal with regarding his religion and sexuality and I’m not sure what ever became of him though I heard he maybe went off the deep end. But he was a pretty fascinating person and an incredible artist, so the experience for our group was huge.  We went on to host several other projects including an emerging artists exhibition that was held at Cordell’s gallery (in its second and final incarnation at 575 West 200 South) and were generally considered leaders of the contemporary movement in the city at the time.

Cordell was hosting terrific exhibitions in his last few years and started to operate more like a gallery than like a studio with a back-room to view art.  He started to attract national talent and there are at least a couple of artists of high-national stature whose careers were given that initial push by Cordell. But it didn’t leave much room for his own art and though Cordell and Lenka were amazingly productive all the time, they had decided to shut the gallery down around the time the Olympics were to be held in SLC.  While that idea didn’t seem to make much sense to a lot of people, it was mostly based on the problem of renting a space in a district that was becoming attractive to major development interests, which led to the threat of an increase in lease rate but with no substantial commitment from the landlord.  Cordell and Lenka simply decided it wasn’t worth the effort to move again, and also decided to concentrate more fully on their own art careers.  At that time I had decided that I’d had enough of SLC and wanted to make a move.  Although my design business was going well and I enjoyed the creative freedom that SLC had to offer, I actually had no clients in the city and didn’t really see wanting to take my design business to the next level there.  Denver seemed like the best place for me for many reasons, and as I started strategizing my move I envisioned having a gallery space in conjunction with a design showroom.  I didn’t, however, know how to justify starting a gallery in Denver on my own, and asked Cordell if I could keep the CTG name running as it would be a way to continue the history of his efforts.  Cordell agreed and somehow it took wings here in Denver.  Ultimately, however, it became necessary to change the name for a lot of different reasons, but I never would have gotten to this point without Cordell, my experience with Surface, a ton of hard work and perhaps good timing and sheer luck.

qi peng: You studied at the University of Utah and were a former artist. What is your opinion on artists who try to curate (such as in artist cooperative galleries) such as Eric Heist who is represented by Schroeder Romero Gallery while running the non-profit venue Momenta Art? Why would both activities be or be not mutually exclusive activities? How did you acquire your eye for progressive contemporary art during your university years that got you critical acclaim to spot new talent such as Karen McClanahan?

Ivar Zeile: That’s a tough question, since the legacy of my gallery started as an artist-run operation I can’t really be too critical.  But my experience over the years has led me to believe that one must focus their energy on one thing, particularly as you get older.  When I started the gallery in Denver, so many friends and associates would ask me why I wasn’t just selling or showing my own artwork and I was really put off by the question.  I’ve always viewed artist-run galleries as vanity operations, though Cordell managed to work past that effortlessly, mostly because SLC simply didn’t have many outlets for contemporary art.   But here in Denver it’s a different story and what I’ve learned is that a gallery is only going to be as good as the effort put into it, and if you want to have artists of high-stature on board, your focus should be on their career and not your own. Of course there are many examples that fall outside of this and I’ve seen or admired some, but my mantra is that as long as there are others making better art than mine, I’d rather focus on them as their rep and as a collector of their work.

I can’t really say where I acquired my eye for art, but my studies in and passion for film are probably the most relevant answer.  I’ve been an avowed film-junkie ever since college and have a long history as a projectionist, film critic, filmmaker, Sundance employee, etc…..Having worked for many years at the Tower (and its even better, more unusual predecessors) allowed me to develop very refined sensibilities about moving image and I would have to claim that experience as having much to do with my curatorial vision for contemporary art.  What I learned in film is that the most outstanding filmmakers always seem to be operating at the fringe, somehow they manage to get their work made and it’s usually because of the understanding and support by people or organizations with a more keen sense of the form and end-product rather than financial gain.   I feel that is the same with all art, and fortunately I was exposed to major intenational venues for contemporary art during my days as a designer as well, and much of that experience also helped to formulate my understanding of contemporary art.  I feel that the exposure to contemporary art helps anyone to gain a better understanding or critical eye, which is why the museum experience is so important, not to mention good progressive galleries!

In regards to Karen McClanahan, however, I must confess that it was my wife who first spotted her work and took an interest.  She influenced me greatly in considering Karen’s work for the gallery as we opened in Denver and it was one of the best decisions ever made.  Even back at that time the opportunity for exposure to emerging artists was different here in Denver.  We first viewed Karen’s work at the MCA Denver, they were hosting an exhibition  of student work from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design when we first moved there.  It was a great showcase for the students, but unfortunately one that probably won’t resurface there or at other local institutions of caliber any more because of the recent shift in stature of those institutions.  It really made it special to find an artist in that context, but the institutions don’t seem to hold much stock in that role anymore, which is incredibly unfortunate.

qi peng: There has been many seismic shifts in the roles or locations of Denver’s art institutions during the past year or so. For example, Plus Gallery is moving into its new location at 2501 Larimer Street during March 2009 and Adam Lerner, who is the former director at The Lab at Belmar, just got called to become the director of MCA Denver and is moving the Lab into the museum. What accounts for the dynamic and rather exciting changes that are occurring within the Denver arts community? What were the reasons for the move that Plus Gallery is completing? How does the new building and layout of the new exhibition space reflect the underlying philosophy for the gallery’s future?

Ivar Zeile: It’s really hard to define the overall impetus for the transformation in the Denver art scene, I’m sure its really the culmination of a lot of elements and people wanting to produce a greater vision for contemporary art in this area.  I moved to Denver the same year that the Denver Art Museum announced the funding of a new building, the Hamilton Wing, to be designed by Daniel Libeskind.  That really stirred some excitement, particularly with Libeskind’s name attached though people may now question the overall impact.  But that spiraled into a campaign for the MCA Denver to build a new and prominent facility with another star architect attached, followed by the announcement of the Clyfford Still Museum as well as the opening of the LAB at Belmar.  Denver also had two major international collectors living in the area that had an interest in upping the ante here in Colorado, Kent and Vicky Logan. With Apsen in the wings and serving as an international destination for collectors, it only makes sense for Denver to advance into a higher realm for the visual arts.  And curators such as Adam Lerner and the DAM’s Christoph Heinrich are truly pushing a vision that I think is of a caliber much higher than what Denver or the west is used to, it’s exciting to be around during this time.

At the gallery level, however, it’s been very interesting.  We felt that we were going to stir things up when we first opened, and since that time at least 50 galleries or art operations have started up in an explosion that at times seems a little ridiculous and perhaps unwarranted.  The problem with all of the institutional advances is that everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, it really makes Denver appear to be this new mecca for art, but the reality is that very little of the population is educated in or even interested in contemporary art.  We were fortunate to get in at a time in which you could push to build a strong image, I think its much tougher now as a gallery, particularly with the art-press drying up, just last week the Rocky Mountain News shut down, which eliminates one of the key critical sources Mary Voelz Chandler.  It’s probably not long before the Denver Post and the Westword take a hit too, they’ve all been essential for us in building our reputation as one of the leading galleries in a vast sea of galleries.

Plus Gallery is moving into a new location for many reasons. The biggest reason for the move is ownership. The opportunity came along to consider this amazing building, truly one-of-a-kind and somehow the vision for how to turn it into the next iteration of the gallery just materialized instantly.  I initially told the developer I didn’t even want to look at it as I felt it would be a wild goose-chase, but I walked out of the building believing that we had to make it happen.  Our lease was coming up in a location that had served us well but was also quite problematic as you can imagine.  The homeless gatherings out front were only getting worse the last year, and more than enough people had mentioned their distaste for that.  It never really bothered me, but when you have the opportunity to improve your situation and consider that we built a solid reputation in one of the worst locations possible, brighter pastures sure seemed like a good fit.  The best part was not abandoning the neighborhood, and also taking into the consideration that I view upper Larimer as one of the best streets in Denver that would be growing in a positive manner in the next five years.  Being at the forefront of the street (even though at the wrong side of one-way) with a magnificent piece of architecture was too good to pass up.  I was impressed with what Andenken had done with their space, and also some of the other projects on our block (such as Studio Como), and felt that if enough people approach the area with the right ideas and vision, it had a much better chance of not becoming too commercialized or turned into a bandit rent-rapist zone that most good areas turn into seemingly overnight.  Of course that remains to be seen.

The other motivation for the move was to have a facility that worked as we wanted it to.  After 7 years you start to realize some of the limitations internally to the old space and the effort to change that didn’t seem to be worthwhile from the financial standpoint.  I think all galleries with longevity and value end up owning their building, so the time had truly arrived.  The new gallery will be very different from the last, we will only do solo exhibitions, something I’ve longed for after having such a big space and less-than-perfect walls.  The second floor will be a total change in environment and will allow us to showcase our represented artists all the time in a more active way, which makes sense since the backbone of the program is the artists.  They can’t be expected to wait 2 years to show new work and we can’t be expected to promise that.  Hopefully we’ll have a more fluid showcase that removes some of the rigidity of the program and still allows us to keep our cutting-edge dynamic.  The solo shows will be spectacular though, truly the best environment I can think of to view artists work.

qi peng: You were a former projectionist for the Tower Theater in downtown Salt Lake City during the early days. Who are your favorite directors? Any favorite movies that you have? What accounts for these choices? Do you think that your high interest in cinema improved your eye for picking out artists whose visual impact on the viewer is breathtaking? How does looking at composition on celluloid is a similar activity as looking at composition of a painting or installation artwork, etc.?

Ivar Zeile: I probably answered some of this above, but I’ll give a brief rundown of my film influences and favorites. Actually, since I have access to it, lets look at my Netflix history between 2004 and 2005, this was a recent period in which I was absorbing a lot of film, and I think anyone’s taste in film can best be ascertained by their Netflix history.  This is most recent and going backwards:

10/12/05 10/19/05 The Corporation (2004)

10/03/05 10/12/05 My Summer of Love (2005)

09/26/05 10/07/05 It’s All Gone Pete Tong (2005)

09/27/05 10/06/05 Hanzo the Razor: The Snare (1973)

09/07/05 09/27/05 The Holy Girl (2004)

09/07/05 09/27/05 Kontroll (2004)

09/08/05 09/26/05 Save the Green Planet! (2005)

08/19/05 09/08/05 Water Drops On Burning Rocks (1999)

08/24/05 09/07/05 Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice (1972)

08/22/05 09/07/05 Platform (2000)

08/18/05 08/24/05 Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

08/08/05 08/22/05 Downfall (2004)

08/12/05 08/19/05 The Jerk (1979)

08/10/05 08/18/05 In the Realms of the Unreal (2004)

07/13/05 08/12/05 A Very Long Engagement (2004)

06/28/05 08/10/05 La Cienaga (2001)

07/26/05 08/08/05 The Nomi Song (2005)

07/22/05 07/26/05 Million Dollar Baby (2004)

06/28/05 07/22/05 A Snake of June (2002)

06/08/05 07/13/05 Kinsey (2004)

06/14/05 06/28/05 Enduring Love (2004)

06/22/05 06/28/05 The Machinist (2004)

06/07/05 06/22/05 Sonic Outlaws (1995)

06/08/05 06/14/05 The Aviator (2004)

05/06/05 06/08/05 Hotel Rwanda (2005)

06/01/05 06/08/05 Trouble Every Day (2001)

05/24/05 06/06/05 Team America: World Police (2004)

05/12/05 06/01/05 Moloch (1999)

05/03/05 05/24/05 Bright Future (2004)

04/19/05 05/12/05 Bad Education (2004)

05/03/05 05/06/05 Naked World (2003)

04/26/05 05/03/05 A Tale of Two Sisters (2004)

04/26/05 05/03/05 Birth (2004)

04/19/05 04/26/05 Reconstruction (2004)

04/20/05 04/26/05 DiG! (2004)

03/24/05 04/20/05 Distant (2002)

04/12/05 04/19/05 What the #$*! Do We Know!? (2004)

04/12/05 04/19/05 The Incredibles (2004)

03/14/05 04/12/05 Japon (2003)

03/29/05 04/12/05 Vera Drake (2004)

03/25/05 03/29/05 Incident at Loch Ness (2004)

03/22/05 03/25/05 Valley Girl: Special Edition (1983)

03/18/05 03/24/05 Ray (2004)

03/15/05 03/22/05 Dolls (2002)

03/14/05 03/18/05 Hero (2002)

03/01/05 03/15/05 I Heart Huckabees (2004)

03/09/05 03/14/05 Anatomy of Hell (2004)

03/08/05 03/11/05 Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

03/01/05 03/09/05 Yi Yi (2000)

03/01/05 03/08/05 Heat and Sunlight (1987)

02/24/05 03/01/05 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

02/24/05 03/01/05 Last Life in the Universe (2003)

02/22/05 03/01/05 Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003)

01/25/05 02/24/05 Millennium Mambo (2001)

02/11/05 02/24/05 The Vertical Ray of the Sun (2001)

02/16/05 02/22/05 My Architect: A Son’s Journey (2003)

02/03/05 02/16/05 6ixtynin9 (1999)

02/07/05 02/11/05 Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

01/27/05 02/07/05 Mean Creek (2004)

01/24/05 02/03/05 Blind Shaft (2003)

01/21/05 01/27/05 Garden State (2004)

01/20/05 01/25/05 Carnivale: Season 1: Disc 1 (2003)

11/29/04 01/21/05 Take Care of My Cat (2002)

01/14/05 01/21/05 Blind Shaft (2003)

12/29/04 01/20/05 The Blind Swordman: Zatoichi (2003)

12/29/04 01/11/05 Maria Full of Grace (2004)

12/17/04 12/29/04 The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

11/29/04 12/29/04 As Tears Go By (1989)

12/06/04 12/17/04 How to Draw a Bunny (2002)

11/23/04 12/06/04 Ju-on: The Grudge (2003)

11/23/04 11/29/04 The Battle of Algiers (1965)

11/17/04 11/29/04 Before Sunset (2004)

11/10/04 11/23/04 The Weather Underground (2002)

11/01/04 11/23/04 The Return (2003)

11/10/04 11/17/04 Control Room (2004)

11/01/04 11/09/04 Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

10/27/04 11/08/04 To Be and To Have (2002)

10/13/04 11/01/04 Noi the Albino (2004)

10/13/04 11/01/04 Scarlet Diva (2000)

10/13/04 10/27/04 The Five Obstructions (2003)

08/03/04 10/13/04 Late August, Early September (1999)

09/14/04 10/13/04 Pixies (2004)

09/14/04 10/13/04 Dogville (2004)

09/01/04 09/14/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 2: Islands / Christo in Paris (1986)

09/08/04 09/13/04 Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2002)

09/01/04 09/08/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 3: Umbrellas (1994)

08/24/04 08/31/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 1: Christo’s Valley Curtain / Running Fence (1973)

08/20/04 08/31/04 The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter (1970)

08/03/04 08/24/04 American Beauty (1999)

08/10/04 08/17/04 Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

07/20/04 08/10/04 Something’s Gotta Give (2003)

07/27/04 08/03/04 In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2002)

07/20/04 08/03/04 Spartan (2004)

07/20/04 07/27/04 Bus 174 (2003)

07/14/04 07/20/04 The Dreamers (2004)

06/29/04 07/20/04 The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

07/14/04 07/20/04 Spellbound (2002)

06/22/04 07/14/04 The Station Agent (2003)

06/24/04 07/01/04 Touching the Void (2003)

06/24/04 06/29/04 Bad Santa (2003)

05/25/04 06/23/04 Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2003)

06/08/04 06/23/04 Mystic River (2003)

06/08/04 06/22/04 City of God (2002)

06/02/04 06/08/04 Love Actually (2003)

05/26/04 06/08/04 The Party (1968)

05/28/04 06/02/04 Heart of Glass (1976)

04/20/04 05/28/04 Dog Days (2001)

05/11/04 05/25/04 The Secret Lives of Dentists (2003)

05/11/04 05/25/04 The Office: Series 1 (2001)

05/05/04 05/11/04 The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

05/04/04 05/11/04 Big Fish (2003)

04/13/04 05/05/04 Blow Up (1966)

04/19/04 05/04/04 In My Skin (2002)

04/09/04 04/20/04 Shattered Glass (2003)

04/09/04 04/13/04 Porn Theatre (2002)

04/06/04 04/13/04 Bully (2001)

03/16/04 04/06/04 Unknown Pleasures (2003)

03/15/04 04/01/04 Demonlover (2002)

03/02/04 04/01/04 George Washington (2000)

03/02/04 03/16/04 Carnage (2002)

03/10/04 03/15/04 In This World (2003)

03/02/04 03/10/04 Pieces of April (2003)

02/24/04 03/02/04 American Splendor (2003)

02/20/04 03/02/04 Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

02/10/04 03/02/04 Capturing the Friedmans: Bonus Material (2003)

02/18/04 02/24/04 Steamroller and the Violin (1960)

02/09/04 02/18/04 The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

02/10/04 02/18/04 Madame Sata (2002)

01/20/04 02/10/04 Knife in the Water: Bonus Material (1962)

01/29/04 02/10/04 Montenegro (1981)

01/27/04 02/09/04 Irreversible (2002)

01/20/04 01/29/04 Humanite (1998)

01/20/04 01/27/04 Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

If I were to distill this list down to the most memorable films, the best discoveries and those that made the most impact, the list would look like this:

08/22/05 09/07/05 Platform (2000)

08/08/05 08/22/05 Downfall (2004)

08/12/05 08/19/05 The Jerk (1979)

06/01/05 06/08/05 Trouble Every Day (2001)

05/24/05 06/06/05 Team America: World Police (2004)

04/19/05 05/12/05 Bad Education (2004)

04/19/05 04/26/05 Reconstruction (2004)

03/24/05 04/20/05 Distant (2002)

04/12/05 04/19/05 The Incredibles (2004)

03/14/05 04/12/05 Japon (2003)

03/14/05 03/18/05 Hero (2002)

03/09/05 03/14/05 Anatomy of Hell (2004)

03/01/05 03/08/05 Heat and Sunlight (1987)

02/24/05 03/01/05 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

02/24/05 03/01/05 Last Life in the Universe (2003)

01/25/05 02/24/05 Millennium Mambo (2001)

01/14/05 01/21/05 Blind Shaft (2003)

12/06/04 12/17/04 How to Draw a Bunny (2002)

11/23/04 11/29/04 The Battle of Algiers (1965)

11/10/04 11/23/04 The Weather Underground (2002)

10/13/04 11/01/04 Noi the Albino (2004)

08/03/04 10/13/04 Late August, Early September (1999)

09/14/04 10/13/04 Dogville (2004)

09/01/04 09/14/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 2: Islands / Christo in Paris (1986)

09/01/04 09/08/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 3: Umbrellas (1994)

08/24/04 08/31/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 1: Christo’s Valley Curtain / Running Fence (1973)

08/20/04 08/31/04 The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter (1970)

08/03/04 08/24/04 American Beauty (1999)

07/27/04 08/03/04 In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2002)

07/20/04 07/27/04 Bus 174 (2003)

06/24/04 07/01/04 Touching the Void (2003)

05/28/04 06/02/04 Heart of Glass (1976)

04/20/04 05/28/04 Dog Days (2001)

04/13/04 05/05/04 Blow Up (1966)

03/15/04 04/01/04 Demonlover (2002)

03/02/04 03/16/04 Carnage (2002)

02/18/04 02/24/04 Steamroller and the Violin (1960)

01/29/04 02/10/04 Montenegro (1981)

01/27/04 02/09/04 Irreversible (2002)

01/20/04 01/29/04 Humanite (1998)

01/20/04 01/27/04 Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Now if I were to distill this list further to films that truly rock my world, it would look like this:

08/08/05 08/22/05 Downfall (2004)

06/01/05 06/08/05 Trouble Every Day (2001)

05/24/05 06/06/05 Team America: World Police (2004)

03/14/05 04/12/05 Japon (2003)

03/14/05 03/18/05 Hero (2002)

03/09/05 03/14/05 Anatomy of Hell (2004)

01/14/05 01/21/05 Blind Shaft (2003)

10/13/04 11/01/04 Noi the Albino (2004)

08/03/04 10/13/04 Late August, Early September (1999)

09/14/04 10/13/04 Dogville (2004)

09/01/04 09/14/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 2: Islands / Christo in Paris (1986)

09/01/04 09/08/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 3: Umbrellas (1994)

08/24/04 08/31/04 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Disc 1: Christo’s Valley Curtain / Running Fence (1973)

06/24/04 07/01/04 Touching the Void (2003)

05/28/04 06/02/04 Heart of Glass (1976)

04/13/04 05/05/04 Blow Up (1966)

03/15/04 04/01/04 Demonlover (2002)

01/27/04 02/09/04 Irreversible (2002)

01/20/04 01/29/04 Humanite (1998)

01/20/04 01/27/04 Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

So this is just a very small sample of my film interests, but a few of my favorite contemporary  directors  would be Bela Tarr, Carlos Reygadas, Lars Von Trier, Guy Maddin, Won Kar-wai, Michael Haneke, Claire Denis (In fact, Beau Travail may be my favorite film of all time), Leos Carax, Arnaud Desplechin, The Quay Brothers, Aki Kaurismaki, and  many, many more.

Tarkovsky, Parajanov, Makjavek (Sweet Movie is another all-time favorite), Kurosawa, Godard, Herzog, Antonioni, Greenaway, Wenders, Kieslowski, Bergman, are all great and influential directors, and working at the Tower afforded me the time and opportunity to really go through complete or almost complete careers, which is what it takes to have a full understanding of an artists work, whether in film or any of the arts.  I used to have a list of films from my Tower days that I’d send to people as recommendations, I can’t find it offhand but if I locate it I’ll send it to you.

I have too many singular favorite films to list, particularly by most of the above directors as well as others, but there are three films that are worth mentioning where the director can’t necessarily be singled out.  The American Astronaut, The Celebration, and Decasia are all films that I find myself watching at least a couple of times a year and that I think have singular attributes.  I also must mention a recent discovery from last week that blew my mind, I haven’t seen such a transfixing film in ages.  I usually try to acquire the Toronto Film Festival guide, it’s a great source for what’s happening with film internationally and though many of the films do get released, most do not.  I try and find which ones never got a wide-release but show up on DVD. Help Me Eros was one of just a few to show up on Netflix, and it is simply one of the most stunning pieces of cinema I’ve seen in ages.  I feel that there are a lot of complex ways to view or understand film and that many of these can transcend into art.  The visual side is obviously of great importance, but I think it is important to try and understand the choices that a director or artist make and to try to take for what they are, not for what you the viewer wants them to be. I also am extremely bored by all mediums that just regurgitate something based on a formula, and of course that is something that is critical to visual art.  Why would you call something contemporary if its not really stretching further than what has come before.

qi peng: Considering your taste for risky directors such as Guy Maddin and Michael Haneke, how do your edgy predilections carry over into the choices of artists within Plus Gallery? What is the most controversial exhibition that you have hosted before? What was the public reaction in Denver and on the regional/national level?

Ivar Zeile: At this point I’m not really looking for edgy or I wouldn’t say that those tastes are going to define what I do in the gallery.  After a while I discovered that you can only try to force-feed your audience so much, after a while it doesn’t make sense to do so because there is usually no return, and those that are seeking that will generally find such content in many other places.  I decided that my curatorial interests are more driven by the program that has developed over 7 years and my appreciation for artists in addition to the work they produce.  Being an art dealer is about relationships, and often the edgiest work is created by artists that don’t have much of a clue when it comes to the business side of art or even just a basic understanding of life in general.  When an artist does, such as Jenny Morgan or John McEnroe, it’s a beautiful thing and something that I embrace.  But I’m also driven by many other standards now and they are harder to define in a nutshell. I like that my program is diverse, it can’t really be pigeon-holed into one or a couple of categories but does reflect my overall interest in art.  There is much art that I would like to show or represent but don’t feel I can because the audience is not there, and you don’t want to push that too much at once, its best to sprinkle the stable with various tones that might hit several different points of interest without necessarily being deemed commercial.

We once hosted an exhibition “The Indian Wars: Palestine” featuring amazing mixed and new media works by Eric Ringsby in 2004.  Eric is an artist with financial means, he also used to back a NYC gallery in his endeavor to bring Colorado artists to that marketplace.  His body of work was highly politically charged and dealt with a world-situation that has proven to only divide people, no matter what side you are on.  We felt that the statement he was making was quite provocative and definitely cutting edge, and in some corners we were definitely hailed for at least delving into this arena.  We didn’t anticipate, however, the negativity associated with the issue from certain corners, it didn’t really effect us in the long run but it did give me cause for concern and at least a few sleepless nights.  I realized that it is super difficult to do exhibitions that have political content, and in general it’s a good idea to stay away from such content in the commercial realm.  The other reality, however, is that there is very little good or credible work being done that is charged in that manner, unless it’s top notch there is no good reason to do anything controversial.  I’m happy with the idea that most of our artists are inspired not by money or fame, but by simply following the calling of their craft and staying focused on their greater body of work.  Some of it has much more to say than people might be aware, and that is what also inspires me.  That to me is what makes a great artist and everyone should endeavor towards higher principles in all efforts in life.

qi peng: Plus Gallery covers various outputs ranging from the forceful abstract sculptures of John McEnroe (not the infamous tennis player) to the hyper-realistic nude portraits of Jenny Morgan. What accounts for such a diverse range of expression manifested within the gallery’s programming? Is there a consistent underlying philosophy within your curating habits?

Ivar Zeile: The diverse range really stems from my own appreciation for diverse expressions in contemporary art.  The philosophy really lies in being attracted to work for a particular reason, sometimes its aesthetic, sometimes it might fill a gap in the program that might seem obvious.  But over time it really does come down to understanding an artist’s studio practice and whether their talent and mindframe is there for genuine reasons and in it for the long-haul.  You can’t really even begin to understand an artist’s work or career until you’ve been dealing with it for many years, so making that initial decision is so important and it should take more time than it often does.  Things are very different when you first start a gallery than once you have experience and know some of the pitfalls of developing your program.  Fortunately we’ve been lucky to have developed a well rounded stable that we are pretty happy with.

qi peng: Plus Gallery attended the Art Miami fair in 2006 and 2007. What was the art fair experience like for you as the director? What were the challenges of attending the fair for the first time during 2006? Also how did the international exposure boost Plus Gallery’s visibility within the overall contemporary art world during those two years?

Ivar Zeile: It was pretty brutal, there is so much to learn the first couple of times and that learning curve can be steep and expensive, but it was fascinating for us and a worthwhile experience.  The first year the fair was held in January and didn’t coincide with Miami Basel.  It was at the convention center, which is very deluxe and we were so proud to exhibit there.  The whole trip was just insane from start to finish, I could practically write a book about it there were so many unusual circumstances, trials and tribulations to overcome you just couldn’t imagine.  The second year did coincide with Miami Basel and was in a giant tent in the Wynwood District.  The experience was frustrating at best, it seemed like such a leap down in terms of the quality of the environment, but not in regards to the caliber of the artwork and galleries there.  You start to realize how important positioning is and also what having money can do for you.  We did relatively well during that trip and learned a ton more, but I’m so super skeptical about the fairs, it seems like you always hear that some fair was doing better than the one your in.  We learned what a challenge it is to just get into a reputable fair, however, and can’t take that for granted.  A gallerist from NYC befriended us the year before and was asked to be on the selection committee the next year.  They told us that there were people on the selection committee that couldn’t understand why they would want a gallery from Denver no matter what the caliber or content of our artwork.  Our friends stood up for us and said it was important to have diversity in the market, but it was probably a tough thing for them to justify.  Once you are at the fair, you really wish you didn’t have to have a sign saying what town you are from, in a lot of ways you can see it turning people off because no one thinks that good or collectible art could be coming out of Colorado!  But fortunately you also realize that it’s all about the consumer’s eye, and if you have good product you will make sales and you will make connections.  The whole thing is so wrong in so many ways but its also part of the current game, I honestly hope that we can pursue more fairs but the fact of the matter is that I wish they didn’t exist, it really cheapens the experience of looking at artwork and debases the value of having a gallery in the first place.  People should return to taking time for their purchases and seeing works in the context of a solo-exhibition, as that’s where the greater understanding and value lies.

I can’t say if the experience has helped us significantly in the international market, the only value I can ascribe is that we get invited to more fairs and hopefully some day we’ll get invited to the right ones!  It really is important to have that experience in order to move up the ladder.  But I don’t think too many people are saying “I remember that gallery from Denver, boy were they hot!”  It’s just too competitive and attention spans are so fleeting at these fairs.

We visited Art Chicago last year as observers, and my suggestion to anyone considering the fairs is to have that experience as well, you learn a lot by talking to dealers, looking for work in a particular way, and seeing what is effective.  When you are doing it yourself sometimes it creates tunnel vision, and believe me you really can’t wait for it to be over!

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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 2:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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